By Neil McCormick
Earlier this month, I accepted a kind invitation by Microsoft to sign up and participate in their Xbox 360 Live Update Preview Programme. To do so, I had to send various details relating to my console, including my gamer tag, console serial, and console id.
Yesterday evening I turned on my xbox 360, to discover there was a system update waiting to be downloaded. This download took approximately 7 minutes to download. Given that I can only get 2 meg adsl in my area – it probably is not that long a download time for the average user.
After the update had installed and rebooted, I discovered it was the preview. The dashboard remains essentially the same, but with some extra features and a revamp of an old feature.
Facebook and Twitter
First change I noticed, is the new Community Channel. This is located just below the Welcome channel. In here you find the twitter and facebook applications, and the new to avatar marketplace feature, showing any new updates to the avatar marketplace. At the moment its showing the Halloween clothes.
Both Facebook and twitter are separate applications and after initial install and customisation to enter your twitter and facebook account details are accessed from here. If you do not have an account with either application, it can be easily set up without leaving your xbox. Im impressed with the facebook application, while its not there to replace the web version, there are no features like Mafia Wars or Farmville, it works very well. Crisp graphic display, able to access your friends list, view photographs and information as well as update your status. Its a great interface.
Twitter, i am not so keen on. While the updates do look stunning and in a similar design to the facebook interface. I do not think the way you write tweets is that great. Once you click on the What are you Doing box, it pops up a pretty generic, xbox typing box. My problem is, I am used to tweetdeck and the fact it has buttons to click on for direct mail and retweets. With the 360 interface, you have to type the shortcuts for direct mail and retweets in each time.
The video market place channel has had a refurbishment. Now called Zune (Microsoft’s version of the Ipod, but not available in Europe) . This replaces the old marketplace in which you downloaded content. Now you hand over your microsoft points and the movie is streamed to you with only approximately 50 seconds of buffering. I have only tried a movie preview so far, but its impressive. Not a bad opening line up includes films such as Slumdog Miillionaire, and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button . The fims are not too expensive, roughly the same as a videoshop rental. For example the HD version of Shaun of the Dead is 380 Microsoft points. The Zune Section is then subdivided into the various genres, such as comedy, horror, romance etc. I noticed some categories, such as foreign fims , do not currently have any content.
One nice feature within Zune is the party option. From this you can suggest films and as a group select the same film and have a chat whilst watching. According to the press release, zune streams up to 1080p and 5.1 sound track.
I have saved, what is for me, the best new Feature till Last (no pun intended 🙂 .
The Last Fm application is magnificent. I have long been a fan of streaming music sites, most recently Spotify. This application reminds me of the sadly missed Pandora. Playlists based on groups or tracks. are at your disposal.
My only regret, is that you cannot integrate Last fm or there again ,twitter or facebook directly into your dashboard. You have to go into each application. If Last FM could have been fully integrated and could be accessed whilst playing games, it would be perfect. Maybe the Dashboard architecture, prevents this from happening, or it might happen in the future.
All in all I think the DashBoard update, has the potential to be a great success. Certainly Last Fm alone makes it a great update.
Have a look at this handy video clip by 1Up of the new features.