Editor-in-Chief Chris Rasco got into Microsoft’s dashboard update preview. The update includes upgrades to the Zune Music and Netflix apps, as well as the new ESPN3 service. Here are his impressions of the new features.
In preparation for the upcoming launch of Kinect, Microsoft launched a new Xbox Live Update Preview Program this week. Despite the fancy name, this is really just a limited beta launch of the upcoming Xbox 360 Dashboard. This Dashboard update includes a long awaited upgrade of the Netflix streaming app, a new Zune streaming service, ESPN3 support, and of course support for Kinect.
Along with new features, the UI has been slightly tweaked to remove some of the round edges and flatten the navigation. I suspect this is largely to accommodate the natural motion navigation that Kinect will provide next month. The tweaks are subtle but noticeable and I quite like the shift to straight lines and corners. It gives the whole UI a new feel without a drastic change. I’m also quite glad that we don’t have that slightly angled perspective navigation anymore as it has been replaced by a more traditional flat side to side navigation.
I don’t really use my 360 to stream music into the living room so the new Zune Streaming features don’t really appeal to me. From what I understand, it’s a decent upgrade but it is still very limited compared to the Zune Software or Zune HD Marketplace. Artists not included in the Zune Pass are not available for streaming or even 30 second previews. In the end, this isn’t something I’m likely to every try out. Zune fans will appreciate the additional investment though.
The Netflix app for 360 has been hands down my favorite way to stream movies for a long time, but it always felt very limited and the lack of a true search meant I still had to sit at a computer to find things that weren’t pre-selected to show up on my 360. With this new update that all changes. New features include a revised UI that matches the new Dashboard’s flat side to side navigation, the ability to search for titles directly from your 360, and even the ability to add DVDs to your rental queue. This is a welcome update for one of the premiere non-gaming aspects of the Xbox 360.
Live sporting events are the one thing holding me back from dropping my cable company and Microsoft may have just solved that problem for me. ESPN3 previously existed as ESPN360.com, a web only interface that allowed users of partner ISPs to stream sporting events that weren’t aired on TV. I use it to watch much of the NCAA Basketball tournament and for most of the World Cup matches. I’ve been a huge fan of this and seeing it come to a more user friendly platform like the 360 just thrills me.
Upon loading you are presented with a few featured sporting events in a side scrolling theatre presentation with your avatars milling about below. Scroll to an event and press x to load the HD streaming version of that event. Scroll all the way to the left to reach the nav menu that has items arranged by category. Due to the huge number of events available at any given time, this menu is a bit large. Future updates are planned to increase integration between your dashboard and ESPN features like MyTeams and MySports that let you jump quickly to sports and teams that you’ve marked as your favorites.
Overall, this fall’s dashboard update is a huge one packed with some stellar features and a shiny new interface. The new Netflix app is nice, but ESPN3 is going to be the new killer app that helps many sports fans make the transition from cable subscriber to on-demand streamer. This update should be available shortly before Kinect hits store shelves on November 4th.