November 19, 2008

"New Xbox Experience" arrives, and it's smooth sailing (so far)

As promised, today's system-wide NXE rollout for the Xbox 360 appears to be going without a hitch—and I've gotta say, the gorgeous new dashboard (not to mention Netflix streaming) was worth the wait. And the old dashboard blades I'd been worried about losing? Don't miss 'em.

I updated my console early this morning, and the process was a cinch. The download itself took less than a minute, and within five minutes I was designing my new Xbox Avatar (gamertag: peking2). Don't worry, it's easy—you get enough choices (body types, eyes, noses, clothing, accessories, and so on) to build an avatar that'll look at least something like you, but not so many choices that it becomes overwhelming. Once your avatar is all set, you'll be able to join parties with your avatar'd buddies and even play community games as your avatar (can't wait to try that out).

The new Xbox Dashboard takes its cues from the Zune interface; basically, you get a column of headings (My Xbox, Events, Video Marketplace, Game Marketplace, etc.), with a row of info panels under each heading. It's easy, intuitive, and—I never thought I'd say this—better than the blades on the old dashboard. (You can read all about the other new features right here.)

Of course, the feature we're all been waiting for—Netflix streaming movies—is also here, and it works great (despite some earlier reports to the contrary). Syncing my Netflix account to my Xbox was a simple matter of entering a five-digit code on the Netflix Web site and installing a quick software update; after that, I got my instant streaming queue and started watching. SD movies look fair—some light choppiness and softness—while HD movies looked razor-sharp (if somewhat softer than Blu-ray-quality). As I noted yesterday, Sony movies are indeed blocked from streaming over the 360—ugh.

Still, I'm mightily impressed with what Microsoft and the Live team have managed to do with a simple (well, simple to install, at least) software update. It's like having a whole new console, along with thousands of free streaming movies as a bonus. Bravo.

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