Xbox LIVE Fall 2011 Dashboard Impressions

Tomorrow, Microsoft unleashes a brand new interface to the Xbox 360’s Dashboard, which people within the company have dubbed the “Metro” design. Along with the change comes a hefty amount of new features. This isn’t the first time the Xbox 360 has seen this sort of revamp to it’s Dashboard though, as the NXE was released in Fall 2008. The NXE introduced Avatars and the big feature then was bringing Netflix to the Xbox 360. One of the failed ventures of NXE was the Xbox LIVE Primetime channel, which was home of the popular 1 vs. 100 game. No particular reason was given as to why 1 vs. 100 was canceled, despite it’s popularity on Xbox LIVE.

This time around, Microsoft is looking to turn the Xbox 360 into the centerpiece of your home media with the Fall 2011 “Metro” update. To do this, Microsoft is introducing Apps to the Xbox 360. New apps will be released regularly, but some that have already been announced and are expected either with the launch of the new Dashboard or soon after are UFC on Xbox LIVE, YouTube, iHeartRadio, VEVO, and many others as well. On top of that, Xbox LIVE is introducing an IPTV service, aptly titled LIVE TV, which allows you to watch Video-on-Demand content that’s offered through your cable provider and will also allow you to stream live TV through your Xbox 360. Comcast and Verizon FiOS are the two providers that will be available right off the bat. Unfortunately, Comcast has yet to agree to the Xbox 360 streaming their live television content. For now at least, only Video-on-Demand will be available.

Now you’re probably wondering whether or not the new interface is any good? I’ve had about three and a half weeks to toy around with it and while at first I had mixed feelings, I’ve grown quite used to it and rather enjoy it. It gives a new breath of life to the Xbox 360, one that 2008’s NXE failed to do. The purpose of the new interface is to unify all of Microsoft’s products. Windows Phone 7 and the upcoming Windows 8 will share very similar interfaces which will make their products look more unified, and make it easieer for them to communicate with one-another in a simple, consumer friendly way.

The Dashboard’s interface is still organized by tabs, but they now scrolls horizontally rather than vertically. The boxes are laid out quite nicely as well. The only small problem I had was the “Play Game” box not being the big center one on the Home tab. While the Xbox 360 is still primarily a gaming console, this small choice almost makes the gaming feel like it’s playing second fiddle to the rest of the Xbox 360’s features which is a big no-no, in my opinion.

The new Dashboard also deepens the Kinect’s interactivity with the interface. The Xbox 360 now supports voice commands through the Kinect. Unfortunately, this won’t work with a standard headset. The Xbox LIVE Marketplace is now searched using Microsoft’s Bing engine. You can use the Kinect to search the marketplace with your voice, simply saying “Xbox… Bing,” and then whatever it is you’re looking for. This also works the other tabs on the dashboard as well.

One more feature that I’m sure many people will really enjoy is that the Xbox 360 now offers cloud storage. Sony’s PlayStation 3 only offers 128MBs of storage where as Microsoft is offering 512MBs. This means you no longer have to worry about taking your hard drive or your entire console with you when going to a friend’s house, or having to worry about losing your game saves due to hard drive failure. Microsoft is also allowing you to upload your gamertag data and dodge the long process of recovering your gamertag.

Microsoft has really set the bar with the new “Metro” Dashboard. It seems Microsoft is really starting to make the $60 you spend every year on Xbox LIVE seem more worth it by putting all of the gaming and entertainment you need in one place. This is only the beginning though, as Microsoft no doubt still working on deals to bring us more content and more apps.

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