Xbox 360 Looks to Become Entertainment Hub
Microsoft will be unrolling a new free update for its Xbox 360 video game console tomorrow (Dec. 6) that will include a wealth of new features.
The update provides a new — and hopefully smoother — user interface, enhanced voice and motion control for Kinect owners, and easier ways to connect and play with friends. With additional paid subscriptions, the update also gives Xbox Live Gold Members access to a number of live TV channels, including Comedy Central and Nickelodean, and to a host of video-on-demand titles.
While the new entertainment options can’t challenge cable television just yet, Microsoft has wrapped television and movie viewing into a package that should be more akin to what people experience with modern devices, such as the iPad and Microsoft’s Windows 7 Phones.
“The user experience through traditional cable set-top boxes hasn’t kept pace with the kind of user experience people get from all these other devices they use throughout the day,” Tom Rogers, chief executive of TiVo, told the New York Times.
New look, new ways to navigate
The update ditches the Xbox 360’s current scrolling menu dashboard for the so-called Metro interface seen on Windows 7 Phones. Content is divided into general groups — such as “video” and “games” — that are spread out horizontally across the top of the screen. Selecting a hub will show individual options ordered in graphic, square tiles. The visual display is designed to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for as you navigate the menus.
And if cycling through content groups doesn’t work for you, Microsoft has integrated its Bing search engine into the system. A Bing search will allow you to quickly find, say, every song, movie and game on your system related to the Matrix, as well as places to find paid Matrix content, such as Microsoft's Zune store and Netflix.
Navigating the dashboard is even easier if you have a Kinect. Rather than limiting the Kinect’s motion and voice controls to a separate area as the current setup does, the update will allow you to fully control your 360’s menus using hand gestures and voice commands. For example, speaking “video” will open the video group on the dashboard, while a simple string of voice commands, such as “Xbox, Bing, Matrix,” will perform a Bing search. [Motion Gaming Review: Kinect vs. Nintendo Wii vs. PlayStation]
A social system
To help you set up times to play games with your friends online, Microsoft will be adding a new “beacon” feature in the update. By setting beacons, you can let your friends know what games you want to play together through Xbox Live or Facebook. This feature will also allow you to post the game achievements you’ve locked on Facebook.
With social gaming in mind, the update will include a cloud-saving feature for Xbox Live Gold Members. Cloud saving will allow you to access your Xbox profile and saved games from any Xbox 360 system connected to the Internet.
Along with playing video games and listening to music, Xbox 360 owners can currently watch videos and movies on their system through services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus (both of which require separate subscriptions in addition to a $60 per year Xbox Live Gold Membership). To make the Xbox 360 more of an entertainment hub than it was before, Microsoft is partnering with dozens of content providers, including Verizon, Comcast, Bravo, Syfy and HBO, to stream live television and on-demand videos.
Verizon will be supplying 26 live television channels — excluding NBC, Fox and other major broadcasting stations — through its FiOS TV application, while Comcast’s Xfinity will deliver some 10,000 on demand movies. These video services and others will require separate subscriptions and will be coming out on Xbox Live later this month or early 2012.