AU Diary: The New Old Xbox Experience

Microsoft is updating your Xbox Live dashboard. Officially it rolls out to the public on August 11. But I've been checking out this week.

A word of caution: don't expect too much.

Sony and, to a lesser extent, Nintendo release firmware updates all the time, usually to add a minor feature or tweak an existing one. Microsoft, however, have previously saved up a whole bunch of stuff and then unleashed it in one go. We used to get two big updates a year, then last year we got the New Xbox Experience, a complete overhaul of the entire interface.

This update is nothing like the NXE. At first glance it looks the same - indeed, many of the new features are so trivial you'll never notice them. But there are a few subtle but worthwhile changes here and there, plus one controversial new addition. Let's focus on those.

In the "Hey, that's neat" category:

* Your Achievements are presented in greater detail with each game displaying a progress bar that hammers home just how little you have accomplished. * Parties are marginally quicker and simpler to organise thanks to the elimination of a couple of button presses. * Your friends list can now be sorted via online status, Gamertag or even current activity.

In the "About time, too" category:

* All games can now be user-rated via a straightforward five-star system. You can then search the Marketplace by filtering the "top rated" XBLA games, demos, DLC, etc. (Although I was able to rate games, none of the global averages were displayed on any content. It's as if everything has been zero-rated right now. Put that down to a quirk of the beta test, surely.)

In the "Erm... OK!" category:

* Your profile now sports a badge showing how many years you've been an Xbox Live Gold member. This means one of my friends has a "6" next to his name, while I am emasculated with a "2".

In the "I guess the fun's now over" category:

* You can now buy clothes for your avatar in the Avatar Marketplace. These vary from replicas of in-game items such as the Explorer's Outfit from Fable II to normal t-shirts with Halo logos on them to otherwise standard hats and glasses that don't appear any more special than what's already available for free. The limited selection in the beta test cost between AU$1.32 and AU$3.96 each. Sure, you can safely ignore it all - no one's forcing you to pay for avatar clothes - but I suspect it means future additions to the free wardrobe will be curtailed.

And, really, that's pretty much it for things worth mentioning. The genuinely interesting features announced at E3, such as Games On Demand, the Zune Video Marketplace, Last.FM and the social network expansions, are not part of this update.

I'm interested to hear what you think is missing from the Live experience right now. What would you change about the interface? What new features would you like to see included in future? And, hey, maybe you disagree that there's nothing exciting in this update. If I'm wrong about that, tell me why.


Comments

    I had Gold for a year, but let it lapse for a few months, I wonder if that resets my 'badge of honour' ?

      Probably: I bet it's an attempt to convince you to not let it lapse. I wonder if my gold star will be 6/12?

      I'd be betting it does. Since my live ran out last Sunday, and then I paid for another 12 months, on the same day. My new "Member since" has last Sunday's date.

      no, it's not reset. I let mine lapse for a month or two, and I've got the update - it says 2 years

    I got into the preview program and d/l'd the update the other day and could tell an immediate difference in UI speed. Very pleased with that. All the little additions here and there don't mean much alone but amount to a lot.

    Was also more than happy to buy a couple of things for my avvy.

    The only gripe I have is the number of years of constant LIVE now being displayed. That is very slack since there was a lot of time, a while ago, when there were bugger all good online games. Therefor you don't buy LIVE. So now you miss out on bonuses others get just 'coz they did. It should count your months of LIVE even if there is a break in between.

    I want the ability to take more than a fortnight off of LIVE and not be lesser off because of it.

      you serious? i d/l'd it and noticed my dash was even slower! all in all i am very dissapointed with the update. i suppose i was expecting some cool surprises but alas, i was let down. lol @ avatar marketplace! copying home much? whats the point? yeah i want my av to sport a rubber chicken! roflmfao!
      time to go back to my PS3.

        This is unlucky you dash is slower. My has improved a bucket load and am grateful for this. The other cosmetic stuff is not much more then eye candy.

    Probably a cumulative time, i.e the total time you've been a Live member. It is measured in years, so 2.6 or something isn't displayed.

    Either that, or yeah, it would be reset.

    Things they need to do:

    - markedly improve the UI responsiveness. Even if a resource needs to load from the 'net, the windows should appear and disappear promptly, with placeholders for items that are still loading.

    - add .mkv container support, complete with subtitles. Come on, MS. Divx/xvid is soo '07.

    - cache movie posters. It's stupid that every time you turn on the box or attach a USB drive, all the movie posters have to load again.

    - GIVE US THE CHOICE OF WHAT MENUS WE SEE. STOP FORCING US TO WATCH ADS EVERY TIME WE TURN ON OUR MACHINES.

    - remember the last menu used, and display that menu first! If I was in Videos last time I used the box, then bloody well show Videos the next time too. Or at least provide an option. Of course, this would interfere with Microsoft's plans to hammer advertisements at us all day long.

      what ads?

        By "ads" I can only assume Womble means the Spotlight section which highlights new content and the occasional promotion. Sure, it's mildly irritating that it's the default menu, but at least the "ads" it features are relevant and often useful in alerting you to something you may not have released had been released.

        I haven't noticed any other types of ads.

      I second the need to add mkv support.

    One thing that this apparently addresses is the speed of recovering your gamertag. Has anyone tested this?

    I did it the other day and it took about 20 mins, so I really do hope they have improved on that

    I just want to be able have avatars off by default so that when I go to my friends list I can just glance at it to see who's online, rather than having to slowly scroll four-at-a-time through a 3D wonderland filled with ugly little cretins.

    Also being able to choose which menu the system starts up with selected would be nice. I couldn't give two shits about the 'spotlight' usually, I'm turning on my system to play my games, not watch ads.

    I hate how if you wanna go your Video or Games folder, you need to exit from the game. I plug in my portable hard drive to listen to music, i can put pictures up or watch clips through the 360.

    But if i wanna see something on their or something, i actually have to exit from the game if i'm in one.

    I had to do this once when i was speaking to someone in a game. Needed the name of something on my HD & in the end exited the game.

    There are other things, but i cbf getting into it.

      Oh that reminds me. Yeah on the dashboard, when you go to friends and they pop up as avatars. You have to hold the analog to the left just to get to the end. They should maybe make the RB and LB buttons activated so that they skip 5, 10 or to the end of the list.

      And when you're friend is in a party, you have to sit their and let the speech bubble of everyones name movie between the avatars to see who is there.

      I know i can easily press the guide button and look at friends there, but not everyone does that. I do, do that now since the NXE. But some people don't and i reckon fixing those could make it less confusing and a tad more easier for everyone. & Besides the avatars of your friends take a while to load anyhow.

        Jay, you can already hit RB/LB to quick-scroll through your friends list.

    The rule with the number of years Gold is, that if you have let your gold lapse for MORE then 14 days, then it will go back to zero.

      link?

      I let mine lapse for about a month and a bit, and mine still says the right number of years

        Same here. I let mine lapse for well over a month when I got RRoD and then again when I went on holidays. And now have a neat little number 3 on my gamer card.

    I have a game I have just purchase and I would like to know who on my friends list has played this game the only way I know how to do this is to choose a friend then compare games and to do this with all my friends takes forever the arcade games have like a auto flash listing of your friends and there scores next to the games icon. I would love something like this for all the games.

    What buttons have been removed from the whole "party" process? From what I can tell, its exactly the same. go to friends list and press x to invite someone to party... What's new?

    Double tap Guide for auto (on the fly) reply
    thats all i want

    Does anyone actually care enough to buy clothes for the avatars? For the price of the striped jacket combo pictured above, you could buy a song on Rock Band.

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