If there is one reason why the Xbox 360 has been continually ahead of the game in this cycle of consoles it is through its continual re-invention of its dashboard. Here the console sees continual improvements and updates to its system allowing for previous new features such as avatars, Kinect support, and in the most recent upcoming update digital streaming television from providers such as Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Hulu Plus, and Sky Go.
Here is a rundown of the new features:
When you boot up your 360 after installing the update you will notice straight away that things have drastically changed. Gone are the various channels that you had to stroll through such as Friends, Games, and My Xbox. They have been replaced with a much sleeker and simpler design that has simply been referred to as Metro. While a little odd to get used to at first this dashboard becomes more and more useable as you adjust to the layout of each of the new channels which include:
Games – here you will find all the various types of games such as Live Arcade, Indie, Downloadable Content, as well as the fully downloadable 360 titles. All of these can be found under their own sub-tab which will clearly show what the recent additions there have been as well as any featured items such as Season Passes or other promoted items
Social – the friends channel has now been renamed to Social, and fits more on a single page showing you a few of your friends which are online at present alongside your avatar. Drill down further and you can get to the Social Apps (Twitter / Facebook) or go to your friends list and see what Beacons are active, or who is currently partied up and online.
Music – this channel has stayed the same as it was before with a Metro overhaul to the channel using Last.Fm to stream music as well as Zune to show off Music videos on the channel.
Video – This channel has stayed much the same as its previous iteration with channel offering the Metro layout to it
TV –one of the big introductions in this dashboard update is the integration of live on demand TV and movies to the Xbox 360 in a much bigger way than before. On launch day (6th December 2011) there will be a number of channels added to the existing packaged of TV services (Sky, ESPN, and Neflix). Joining them will be Hulu Plus (USA), LoveFilm (UK), EPIX (USA), and Netfilx (Canada) to name a few. Yet this is not the end as further content providers such as Channel 4 (UK), Daliymotion (Various), ABC iView (Australia), and MSNBC (Various) all go live later in December 2011, with other bigger names such as HBO, BBC, and MLB.Com to follow in early 2012 (the full list can be found here)
The whole new look and feel of the dashboard is very similar to that of the PS3, offering the user a simple bar interface which can be navigated around with ease by using the LB and RB buttons. Many of the new features are easy to discover and use, however when switching between channels I did find that some of the advertisements were rather large and in my face making me feel like my gaming was a secondary plan but this didn’t really effect the overall experience.
This is something that the Xbox 360 has lacked for some time now and one of the biggest advantages that PC gaming systems such as Steam and Origin have been able to hold over the console generation in recent times. Now Xbox Live Gold Members are able to get access to a cloud storage system for their Xbox 360 allowing you to upload / download save files and Xbox Live profiles from the cloud.
The system works very similar to that of having a memory stick in your Xbox allowing you easy access to your Cloud and allowing you to access your profile / saves on any console that connects to the internet. I can see this becoming one the most used features of the new update as people move around from console to console without any hassle of locating a USB pen drive.
One of the biggest additions and integrations into the dashboard is Kinect. The previous iteration of the Kinect hub has now gone, with its remains becoming a living part of the dashboard. A simple wave of the hand will active your gesture movement control of the console and all is much as it was before with a simple left or right hand sweep to navigate the dashboard. However, the biggest Kinect enhancement doesn’t come with motion but with voice, as the dashboard now integrates the Kinect’s microphone into the dashboard experience.
Give a simple command such as “Xbox, Games” and you will arrive at the games channel, “Xbox Social” will take you to the new social channel or to simply begin your game “Xbox, Play Disc”/ While this is worthy feature for the Kinect it is not is best party piece, add into your command phrase Bing and a whole new world opens up with ideas such as “Xbox, Bing, Halo”.
Your Xbox will recognise the command and begin to use an integrated Bing search facility to search the Xbox Live network for anything related to Halo in this case bringing up results such as Halo ODST, Halo Reach, Halo Waypoint, Halo DLC, Halo avatar items … etc making your search just that bit simpler than before.
The integration of Kinect into the dashboard is a good idea to get more people to use this device for its full capabilities (instead of making fools of you and your friends). While the motion controls now have an easier way of accessing them it is the voice commands which really shine through making this feature an integral part of the new dashboard
So you want to play a game and let your friends ahead of time know what you want to play later on? Well this new handy feature of Beacons allows just that. You can easily see what other people want to play and when. This can be simply view on either on Xbox.com, the dashboard (via the Social Channel), or by simply throwing in the same game that they’ve set the Beacon for.
During my time using the new dashboard this wasn’t a feature that I personally had much experience using, as it is not something that appeals to me as if I want to play a game online it will be more of a spur of the moment thing or I will look to other social media outlets to organise the game. I can see this being of use to a small crowd of the Xbox community, but for the masses I think this is more something that will merely pass us by
One of the smaller new features of this new dashboard is that of the ability of being able to publish your Xbox Live Achievements to your Facebook wall. After a few minor set up points on your console you can proudly show off on your wall which achievements you have earned in your games in an effort to increase your gamer credentials or just throw down a challenge to your friends to match you.
While this is a little bit tricky to locate on the new dashboard it is a handy feature for more bragging rights, however I feel that this could do with more of an “Auto-Publish Feature” so you didn’t have to go and click every single achievement you want to publish in order to make this more a complete idea.
This is update to the Xbox dashboard is a welcome one with many features being brought to the table by Microsoft and its media partners. It is only through the delivery of the promises that have been made back at E3 2011 in July that Microsoft is really able to prove that it is the Console King of this generation