There may have been a few delays with the rolling out of the new Xbox360 Dashboard update, but it is finally here in all of its socially-connected, home entertainment-fuelled glory.
Expecting it to roll out yesterday, many Xbox360 gamers has to resign themselves to either the old dashboard, or come up with new and interesting ways to simulate the new experience. Personally, I spent the evening trying to train the dog to change channels on SKY – somehow using the remote control just felt like cheating. Still, the update is now live and my dog can relax, I will be spending my evenings shouting at Kinect now instead of her (Does anyone else suffer from “mobile phone” syndrome and find themselves shouting at Kinect? I wonder what the neighbours think?)
On first starting up the Xbox360 after the update, the user will be greeted with a much more impressive looking signing in screen, complete with all available accounts and their Avatars. You can even store your profile on the new Cloud Storage, along with game saves and achievements, making life far easier when visiting friends Xbox360s.
After signing in, the gamer is treated to the new dashboard, which scrolls sideways instead of up and down. The whole interface has been optimised for voice and gesture control using Kinect, so no more having to go into a sub-menu if you want to just wave and shout at the TV. Themes still seem to be working fine, something which I know many owners were worried about.
Almost as if taking a leaf out of Apple’s playbook, there is now an App Marketplace for downloading all of your entertainment apps. It is a little sparse at the moment, with only a few apps available, but there are a load more in the pipeline that should be with us before Christmas or soon after, such as YouTube, Daily Motion, 4OD and Demand 5.
Of what is available right now, the LOVEFiLM app is the only one that wasn’t available before. This app allows LOVEFiLM subscribers to stream from their massive catalogue of movies direct to the Xbox360. Looking on the LOVEFiLM website, it seems that subscriptions, which include postal deliveries of DVDs or Blu-Ray movies, start from £5.99 each month and include 2 hours of streaming and a 14 day free trial. However, when starting the app on Xbox, there seems to be a streaming only option (with no postal movies) that is being offered with unlimited streaming and a one month trial for a launch price of £4.99 a month. This will all have to be confirmed though as the LOVEFiLM website does not seem to have been updated with these details yet.
Otherwise, the SKY app and the Last FM app take care of the TV and music entertainment options, alongside the Zune app of course. The SKY app will be where I spend most of my time. Having a full SKY subscription means that I already have access to the live channels and on-demand features, all of which are easy to use and work well.
BING voice search is another feature of the new dashboard, allowing owners to simply say what they are looking for and letting BING search the marketplaces for appropriate content. Whilst this is a handy feature, I am still having trouble getting my head around the idea that people would turn the Xbox360 on without knowing what they want to do, but I guess that is what Microsoft want, people having the Xbox360 on at all times for all forms of entertainment. In use, it works well and doesn’t have too much trouble working out what you are saying.
Gamers may well come away from the dashboard feeling slightly hard done by. The inclusion of the Beacon service, allowing gamers to declare that they want to play a particular game online and have that broadcast amongst their friends on Xbox Live and FaceBook, is nice and will improve the social-side of gaming. But the Arcade games have been bunched in with all of the retail games in new releases and I could only find Indie games stashed away within the “Game Type” sub menu.
All of which emphasises Microsoft’s mission to make the Xbox360 the hub of home entertainment, not just gaming. It may have been a while since games consoles made their way out of the bedrooms and into the living areas, but this latest update certainly hits the point home. Xbox360, with Kinect, is now more family friendly and usable than ever before. With the roll out of new entertainment services over coming weeks and months, there will be fewer and fewer reasons to turn the Xbox off. I look forward to not having to use my SKY box or media centre PC, remote controls are sooo yesterday.