The current Xbox 360 dashboard is kind of a clusterf*ck. Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN integration are great (as I use them pretty much daily), but a redesign is clearly needed. You can point the finger at Microsoft for its state of disarray, but really the madness can be attributed simply to the rules of Chaos Theory: the belief that everything constantly moves from order to disorder.
When the last Xbox 360 dashboard makeover (NXE) arrived, everything was peaches n' cream. Avatars were populating like rabbits, and Facebook, Zune, and Netflix found a nice balance among the Xbox Live marketplace. Everything was in order.
Performance, discoverability, and voice. These three simple things were etched into my brain as Albert Penello, Sr. Director of product management and planning at Microsoft, walked me through me the new dashboard last week. After meeting with Penello to check out this fall's dashboard refresh, I have to say Microsoft might finally have all the entropy they’ve created under control.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Kinect support is just how well voice commands work. Like the gesture support, everything on the dash is accessible via speech. "The voice stuff is getting better and better all the time," Penello said. "A lot of the learning for voice is in the service; it's up in the cloud." And speaking of the cloud, it's still coming along with roaming profiles and some other unnamed gaming features.
As the cornerstone of this for the new dash, Bing Search makes finding content quick and reliable via voice or text. If it exists on XBLA, Zune, Netflix, or any other service on the network, Bing will find it. At the moment, Bing is limited to title search -- it can't handle in-depth searches on categories such as actors, directors, and genres -- but the possibility wasn’t ruled out. One thing that is cool about the search results is being able to have it display only movies, music or games via Kinect, simply by saying “Xbox show movies” or “Xbox show games.”
Outside of design and functionality aesthetics, the biggest addition for gamers is the new “beacons” feature. Essentially, beacons are game invites that don’t expire. Want to play Halo or watch Netflix with friends, but don’t want to wait for them to get online to invite them? Set a beacon. Your friends will get an alert -- called a “toast” -- anywhere they are signed into Live (Windows Phone 7, Internet, and Facebook). They’re a great way to organize all online activities.
For the Achievement whore, Gamerscore will now be tied to Facebook without the help of a third-party program. Don't worry about being bombarded with updates, though, as the process is completely manual. Get a rare Achievement and want to rub it in your friends’ faces? The choice is yours. One interesting thing about Facebook that Penello did discuss -- more as a vision than an actual feature -- would be the ability of sharing thoughts about a movie you just watched, straight from the dashboard, rather than logging onto Facebook afterwards and typing it up.
What do you think of this redesign? Order achieved?