Product Review: New XBox Experience

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Foregoing it’s bi-annual dashboard update last time around, Microsoft overhauls the look, feel, and functionality of it’s console service.

Is change good? Or is this a case of fixing something that wasn’t broke?

Find out inside.

Since the days of MSDOS (that’s a long time ago in GeekSpeak) Microsoft has done one thing better than anyone else: move into a new market, take the best ideas from its competitors, improve on them, and dominate the market.

Microsoft developed programming languages before it purchased DOS and dominated PC operating systems.

Windows wasn’t the first graphical interface running on a home computer (and it wasn’t on a Mac either, for those of you who aren’t old enough to remember Commodore GEOS on C64 or the Amiga), but it certainly built the largest market share.

Consoles? The original XBox was a decent machine, easily overpowering the Playstation 2 (raw hardware power, not sales), but it wasn’t until the XBox 360 that Microsoft became a serious contender.

Further evidence of this tactic is in Microsoft’s approach to the portable music market. Put out a product (Zune), feel out the market, incorporate and improve on your competitor’s strong points… revise the product.

Off topic: I predict Zune will be a serious threat to Apple’s iPod in the next 3-4 years.

What does this have to do with the New XBox Experience (NXE)?

The boys and girls in Redmond aren’t stupid, and they’ve done their homework. They’ve taken the best ideas from their competitors (sometimes from other MARKETS) and merged them into their product… and relaunched it.

Let’s take a look at what you’re getting with the new update.

Interface

Besides just adding some new features, this time around we get a whole new look, and a new navigation style with our update.

Categories/Features are neatly arranged in groups running vertically, while break-out sub-categories fly out horizontally.

Sound like the Playstation 3’s XMB laying on its side? It should, because it is.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, to the contrary, I’ve always thought the design was nice. Clutter-free, elegant, easy to understand. I like it regardless of the platform it’s used on.

Rather than having small, static icons for each item listed, NXE has large flowing pictures that swoop and swish in and out of view, casting a reflection on a virtual ‘floor’.

It looks and feel remarkably like iTunes CoverFlow interface. It should, because it is.

Another change is the basic functionality of the Guide Button. Pressing the Guide button now opens a context sensitive ‘mini’ version of the old XBox blades. For those of you who miss them… there they are. Just with less crap cluttering your screen.

Avatarsilmavatareditor

Nintendo has its Mii’s, Sony may eventually have Home… XBox has Avatars. Customize them, clothe them, chat with them, and (eventually) use them as your character in a game. Not as ‘realistic’ as the avatars in Playstation Home, and not as cartoony as Mii’s, Microsoft is striking a balance between hard core and casual players. Now if we could only do something with them beyond playing paper dolls…

Party System

Maybe the most immediately useful addition is ‘Parties’. Join up to 8 players in a group and travel between multiplayer games… and stay together. It’s like game-specific clan support across multiple games.

Color me impressed.

Netflixilmnetflix

For some people this is a big selling point; you can now stream movies from Netflix (if you have an account with them) through your XBox 360. I played with it briefly, downloading/streaming worked fine, and the video quality was better than I expected, but I have some issues. The amount of titles available are limited, HD video is even MORE limited, and if they would include a BROWSER on the machine, I would get more video functionality. Can’t use Hulu, Boxee, or even YouTube on an XBox.

When it comes to streaming video to my TV, I’ll use my PS3, my Linux PC, or my PS3 running Linux. More functionality, more titles, and I don’t have to pay for a Netflix account.

That being said, I’m sure people will love it; I’m just not one of those people.

Community Games

Combined with a strong developer feedback system to encourage higher quality games, a streamlined approval system, and a low cost of entry, Microsoft’s XNA Initiative to spur independent game development could definitely yield some gaming gems. This is a new area of the Marketplace that features indie developed games at (usually) lower prices than the big boys. No Achievements, no stringent Microsoft approval process (that’s good AND bad), just raw game programming skill. This could be a wonderful thing, or it could be a train wreck. Time will tell.

Play From Hard Drive

A new feature allowing you to copy important files from your (disk) copy of a game onto your hard drive. This will certainly lead to quieter gaming, as the DVD drive in your console will not need to spin, and may lead to faster loading times. NOTE: you’ll still need the disk in your drive to launch a game.

Some games are reportedly SLOWER after a hard drive install (most notably Halo 3) and they tend to be HUGE space leeches (Rock Band 2 takes 6.7GB when installed), so your mileage and the usefulness of this feature may vary.

Conclusion

Overall I’d say the update is an improvement. Things move faster, are generally easier to find, and the interface is much less cluttered. Is it everything I would hope for in a console UI? Not really, no.

But it’s a definite step in the right direction.

MATT SAYS: GET IT (like you had a choice)


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0 thoughts on “Product Review: New XBox Experience

  1. Its good to see you use Linux, I use Linux and only bought the Xbox because it was cheap. I secretly dream that Mark Shuttleworth or any of the open source movement would get into the console market.

  2. I think the best thing that Microsoft could do for their gaming division (not that it would happen), would be to team up w/ Apple.
    Think about it.
    Have Apple design the hardware side of things (console aesthetics, controller design) and the User Interface, and have some say on how the actual system software comes together.
    Microsoft could use their market pull to ensure the best hardware on the market is available to the Apple design team, and it would ensure the cooperation of 1st party Microsoft game developers, and 3rd party as well.
    If they could sit down and talk it out and come to acceptable terms, I think it could be a win-win for both.
    Microsoft has a console that can compete not only on hardware specifications, but also by reliability and aesthetics, which I find more and more people care about now.
    Apple can’t really LOSE money on this, as they make so much off of the iPod and iTunes Music Store anyway.
    I would buy it…

  3. Well they can think about it. Apple are microsoft’s main rival. If they teamed up the new console would be very expensive to put it mildly because there would be two people wanting to get paid and apple products are very expensive historically too (An apple mac starts at €1500)
    What microsoft needs to do in the long term for the xbox is to make a stable and powerful console for its next version(40 per cent of all xboxs break down even mine broke) The best way to do that is to do what Sony have done all along developing their playstations to have the best technology that they can find and finding the best way to fit all the parts together. I know that the PS3 had problems too but it is without a shadow of a doubt the best console in terms of power and features. The only problem is price.