Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New Xbox 360 Dashboard out today

The new Xbox dashboard is out today and it's quite a change. Adopting the "Metro" interface that is currently used on Windows Phone 7 and the soon to be released Windows 8, Microsoft are attempting tie the front ends together. I have been on the Beta program for the last few weeks and there are bits I like and a few niggles.

The new interface is quite a change yet again. I had actually forgotten the original "blade" design of the original Xbox 360. This time around you can tell that the experience is designed for Kinect. Gesture driven menu's and voice recognition commands are great, if you have a Kinect. I don't have a Kinect (Hint Hint Mr. Claus) and I find navigating the new dashboard with a controller a little frustrating. With the NXE dashboard I could flick to where I wanted quickly, but now things seem to be buried much deeper in menus. Although, I love the look of the new dashboard in its default look, I am not sure about the dashboard themes if work as well with this design.

Bing has been added to the dashboard and allows you to search for games, content and media. Take the example results window above. Searching for X-Men brings up anything X-Men related. It does work very well and I hope that it will capabilities will extend across to the new apps. There is a new app marketplace section as well from here you download new apps for social media and Video services. That's right! We in the UK are finally going to get some video services on our ageing 360's. As of the update today the UK can get LOVEFiLM through the Xbox and the initial signup includes a 30 day free trial. Later in December 4oD and 5 On Demand will be available. Also, there are several other internet video services, with YouTube leading the way. All of this content will be available to Live Gold subscribers. In Early 2012, BBC content will be available to Live users for free! I have not been able to test any of the apps, as they have not been made available to the beta programme. 

The Social tab has improved with a simple change. It is next to the initial home tab and not the furthest one away as in the NXE.  The new interface allows you to quickly browse your friends and join them in games and parties. The layout makes it simpler to compare games. The newest feature here is Facebook integration and beacons. You can now let all of your Facebook friends know when you have unlocked and achievement, by sharing it on Facebook. Alternatively you can set a beacon to tell all of your Live and Facebook friends that you want to play certain games online (see below). It notifies you when friends are playing the game you have set the beacon to.

All in all it is a huge update for the Xbox and keeps it ahead of the pack again. It should be commended that Microsoft has been able to implement three Dashboards in the 360's life span. It is incredible to think back to what we started with and the tools we have now. This update really does change the Xbox 360 from simply a games console to a media hub. 

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