Published on December 8th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
The Xbox 360 2011 Update: The Good, the Bad, and the Annoying
Unless you’ve been looking under a rock (or have yet to jump online on your Xbox), you may have noticed the shiny new Xbox 360 dashboard update. This is a pretty big update. Not only are we given a brand new user interface (UI), we have a whole host of new features such as apps, the app market, cloud storage, roaming profiles and much, much more. That is why we decided to highlight the best of these features, along with the worst, as well as discussing some of the unfortunate issues. And yes, there are issues. But first, let’s talk about …
It’s good to see Microsoft jumping on the cloud storage bandwagon. Gamers now have 512 megabytes of easily accessible cloud storage for their games. This is the best way for gamers to back up their save files. All one needs to do is either choose Cloud Storage when starting up a game, or by copying an existing save file over. I already synced my 70+ hour warrior on Skyrim, because if I lose him my life would be without meaning.
Roaming Profiles is a nice compliment to Cloud Storage. With this, gamers who go to a friend’s house simply need to jump on their buddies Xbox 360, download their Profile, and there you have it. Combined with the Cloud service, all your save files go along with it. The good thing about this is you don’t have to re-download your Profile when you get back. It works just like it should.
New Shiny UI
The first thing gamers will notice is the brand new user interface. Everything is separated in categories near the top of the screen. The Home category features the game that is sitting in the Xbox 360 disc tray, a window scrolling through the latest updates, and an advertisement window. Something else you will notice is the Quickplay option that is also now included.
Quickplay features 10 recent applications, games, latest downloads, or whatever you have recently used. Quickplay allows gamers to easily access recent items without having to hunt them down again. The Social category is the place for friends and allows gamers to access social apps like Facebook and Twitter.
Video features My Video Apps, Inside Xbox, ESPN and the Zune Video Marketplace. The Games tab allows you to access the titles in your library, as well as including a tab to access the Game Marketplace. Music features Music Apps and Zune. The Apps section of the dashboard is one that should see the most expansion over the next few months. Gamers should expect the typical apps such as Netflix, ESPN, Hulu Plus and Last.fm, as well as the newcomer Epix, which provides streaming movies online (more info can be found here: Epix QA). Microsoft plans on rolling out apps later this month. Look forward to such apps as Bravo, CinemaNow, Crackle, HBO GO, iHeartRadio, Youtube, and Xfinity On Demand for online streaming television.
I dropped quite a few big names just a moment ago, but those are only just a few. There are a lot of new content partners coming into the fold, and is reassuring that we are witnessing the beginning of something good here.
After all the talk and promises, streaming television is finally on the way. Many of the partners I listed above are set to bring news and TV shows directly to the Xbox 360. My feelings on the streaming quality are a little mixed, however. I recently watched Donald Trump on MSNBC Today and noticed a few too many pixels in his smug hairpiece. The quality was poor, almost borderline standard definition TV. Let’s hope the quality picks up soon.
Did I mention the speedy part? No? OK, the new UI is fast and smooth, a monochrome opposite of the sluggish transitionas we’ve had before.
Full Kinect Support
“Xbox Bing,” the guy in the trailer says, “The Fast and the Furious.” Suddenly, every Fast and Furious’ title flies onto the screen. Yes, we finally have full Kinect support. The faster interface lets us effortlessly glide through the menus using hand or voice.
Beacons & Activity
The Beacons & Activity menu can be accessed by pressing the guide button on the remote. Beacons let gamers tell their friends that they are down to play a certain game, even when playing a different one or watching a video. For example, I could be running through the fields of Skyrim, but I could be down to lay down some suppressive fire inBattlefield 3. All I’ve got to do is let my friends know to count me in shortly. The Beacons also notify gamers if a friend sets the same game to their list, making it fast to find buddies who want to play a few matches together. The “Activities” section is split into two categories: My Activity and Friends’ Activity. My Activity shows your last five games and apps, as well as who has been playing them. Friends’ Activity shows what games and apps your friends have been playing, currently or recently.
As of this writing, there has been only one thing that people have really been complaining about, and it’s really more of a “taking the good with the bad” sort of issue. I’m talking about the upgrade to the Netflix app. While I believe the upgrade was necessary and makes the menus much easier to navigate, the ability to watch TV shows or movies with a party has all but vanished. Now, this will really only affect those who watched Netflix with friends or family who didn’t live nearby. For example, I used party viewing over a dozen times with my friend who doesn’t have the time to simply come over and watch “Futurama” on a whim. Microsoft has heard the complaints, and has responded to IGN:
“The new app platform on Xbox does not support the video party mode feature at this time, so will not be available in any existing app partners that have updated their app, like Netflix, or any of the new Xbox app partners. The feature is still available in some of our international video apps, like BSkyB in the UK and will likely be included in the next version of the app dev kit. For customers that would like to chat with their Xbox LIVE friends while gaming or watching videos the chat feature is still available via the Xbox Guide.”
It has been hinted that the feature may make a return some day in the future.
As the new update rolled out, reports of bricked consoles, unresponsive apps and the inability to jump online hit the Internet with a fury. Even we at GAMINGtruth had some issues. For a while my Xbox couldn’t connect to the Internet not long after I updated. Even now, Microsoft has yet to completely fix the issues. I can go online, but sometimes my Netflix will just stop streaming. Other online streaming apps are also giving me some trouble.
Users opted out of the courts
Once the system has updated, the system asks users to agree to Microsoft’s new terms of service plan. This plan actually asks gamers to agree neutral arbitration on disputes. This means that if you are wronged, you can no longer take Microsoft to a court of law or join a class-action lawsuit:
YOU UNDERSTAND AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT BY AGREEING TO BINDING ARBITRATION, YOU ARE GIVING UP THE RIGHT TO LITIGATE (OR PARTICIPATE IN AS A PARTY OR CLASS MEMBER) ALL DISPUTES IN COURT BEFORE A JUDGE OR JURY. INSTEAD, YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT ALL DISPUTES WILL BE RESOLVED BEFORE A NEUTRAL ARBITRATOR, WHOSE AWARD (DECISION) WILL BE BINDING AND FINAL, EXCEPT FOR A LIMITED RIGHT OF APPEAL UNDER THE FEDERAL ARBITRATION ACT. ANY COURT WITH JURISDICTION OVER THE PARTIES MAY ENFORCE THE ARBITRATOR’S AWARD.
Gamers can opt out of this by writing directly to Microsoft:
Microsoft Corporation, ATTN: LCA ARBITRATION, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399
This only applies to residents of the United States.
Despite the lingering issues, loss of party viewing on Netflix, and Microsoft’s attempt to avoid future court summons, the dashboard upgrade is great. It keeps everything organized, and finding content thanks to the fast interface and Bing search makes things easy. We have a lot to look forward to in the coming months with the new content partners bringing us the goodies. Hopefully once all the bugs are fixed and we figure out if the new service plan is constitutional or not, we will be happy with the new dashboard update. Until then, we like it what we see, and it will get even better from here.