A few thoughts on the new Xbox 360 dashboard

So now we’ve all had a few moments to spend with the update to the Xbox 360. This new update brings with it more of that Metro-UI, intense use of whitespace and a chance to bring the entertainment core of the Xbox 360 front and center. Many scoff at the fact that games are relegated to later in the UI scroll, but remember that Xbox 360 will still play games, but it has to drive home the point that it’s more than just about games, now. It’s about music, movies, television, and other forms of content.

Having spent some time with this new dashboard I just wanted to offer a few thoughts and opinions on certain aspects of the new changes. These thoughts will be more scatterbrained than your typical review. If you want an in-depth look at what’s going on, I recommend you check out the series of reviews that Paul Thurrott is putting together for the Supersite for Windows.

Yet, you’re here so here’s some of my takes on the new dashboard:

Netflix should be commended for adding things like related movies, subtitles and the like but the design is ass-backwards. Now I really miss the old style layout. Right now everything is a clutter. Movies on top of movies all seemingly trying to battle for my attention. I joked that it’s like Chris Tucker’s scene in Rush Hour 2 where he’s presented with a boatload of massage girls. It’s fun to look at, but choosing just one is all kinds of difficult. Keep the features, but use the old layout. That’s what I think.

Zune Music Marketplace (and Video for that matter) got some pretty nice updating. Although it’s kind of confusing in the music marketplace when you see something that says ‘your collection’ only to find out that it’s referring to the music videos that you’ve purchased over time. I was hoping that this would be the moment that some form of local collection connecting would take place. Speaking of videos, Smart VJ is exactly what I was hoping would be implemented. I had said that no one would want to start roaming the marketplace creating a music video playlist. Smart VJ does that for you, creating a playlist of music videos that are ideal for party situations. Just choose an artist and off you go.

Xbox 360 now allows you to share your achievements to your friends on Facebook. It’s nice, but that doesn’t stop me from using Raptr. Raptr also allows me to share via Twitter when I play a game, what achievements I get, general summary and more. Yes, it’s a bit spammy but it’s greater in functionality than what the native console does. You’d think that after implementing Facebook and Twitter (and making a big deal out of it during an E3 presser) that more would be done to share what you’d like to be sharing on the console. Why can’t I, for example, share out from Xbox 360 what music I’m listening to from the Zune Music app? Yes, I *will* beat that horse to death. :)

Beacons are fine, but um I don’t ever plan to use these. It’s nice to know when a friend wants to play Gears 3 but if I see them playing Skyrim or Modern Warfare 3 why bug em about a round of Horde. Maybe if I was playing Gears 3 and my friend was playing Gears 3 (with beacons on) we’d be alerted that maybe we’d want to team up on some multiplayer. That makes sense.

The Xbox 360 companion app for Windows Phone is awesome! I wasn’t expecting it to be as instantaneous as it was. You could see a slight delay, but the Xbox 360 was very responsive to the touch controls that I gave from the phone. It goes to show that a convergence is happening where if you invest in this ecosystem, good things can happen. Next step would be a pop-up video style component to the phone. Maybe partner up with IMDB and let some of those movie trivia things pop-up during sequences of the film or TV show that you’re watching.

The Bing! experience is quite well done. I never thought I’d be using voice control all that much. Remember, gaming before Kinect highly was silent unless you were with friends or playing over the internet. I don’t ever remember speaking to my Atari 2600 unless it was to say “Why did I buy this FKN E.T. game!?” However, when you speak to Kinect and have it search for content it’s very responsive and accurate. Quite impressed.

I understand some of the concerns about ads and how they appear practically everywhere. I also understand Gold members when they’re miffed about having so many ads especially when you’re paying for the service and most of the features that are available require a paid subscription. However, I found the ads to be not as intrusive as they could’ve been. I could do without the ones that suddenly play audio when you box over them, but for the most part I’m fine with the advertisements, especially if that’s keeping the cost of the subscription and the like down.

Having my internet become spotty just goes to show how the cloud (even if *it* doesn’t go down, per se) is still a fickle proposition. Now the Xbox 360 allows you to cloud save games and your profile. Nice and all, but if companies are still going to dick around with internet speed and reliability, local storage is still the way to handle things. The companies can’t come to your house and smash your USB drive with a hammer.

Overall, I think the new update is superb. There are great things and there are mediocre things but overall I think that this is a step in the right direction. The dashboard allows for controller, voice and gestures to help people navigate to their content and find things quickly. When you begin to amass a ton of services (from TV providers, music streaming and more) being able to filter out what you’re looking for more rapidly becomes increasingly important and Xbox 360 is making that much more tolerable.

Kudos to the Xbox team for the update. Looking forward to the other content coming down the pipeline.

Oh, and where’s my FKN Youtube? Haha, kidding.

About Marques Lyons
Microsoft Xbox MVP. Xbox Music Correspondent. Music Fanatic.

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