Late last year we saw the release of the latest version of the Xbox dashboard – and with the new Metro UI (user interface) and Kinect support there is plenty to get excited about. Here’s what you need to know.
We got our first glimpse of the new Xbox Dashboard earlier this year at E3, and now the time has come for everyone at home to be able to get their hands on to it – so here’s a rundown of what’s new and what you need to know to get the most out of your new Xbox Experience!
The New Look
The first thing you will notice when you boot up your console will be the brand new look to your dashboard. It’s been inspired by Microsoft’s “Metro” user interface designs, which made its debut with Windows Phone 7 device, and more recently with the Windows 8 developer preview. The tiles form the basis of your new menus, each with its own information and shortcuts, and they are grouped together by categories (listed at the top) that you can easily slide through to get to whatever it is you are looking for.
One of the great things about this new look though is that it is much more Kinect friendly – the Kinect hub has been dropped completely, and now the entire dashboard will be able to be driven by your hand movements.
While voice support has been available in the UK and US for a year now, with this update Xbox’s ears are now open to an Australian accent via Kinect. Simply say “Xbox” to get your console’s attention, and then tell it what you want it to do – you’ll see a black bar appear across the bottom of the screen listing the commands you can say to your Xbox, any of the tiles on the screen will also get a small black bar across the bottom of them to highlight the text to select each tile, and you can even call out the items from the menu at the top to move the screen around. For example, I could say “Xbox … TV … Live TV” and the console will launch the Foxtel app and take me right to watching something. The same voice control extends from the main dashboard through to the Zune Music Video marketplace as well (you can control play back by pausing, skipping, fast forwarding and rewinding).
Unfortunately the voice control stops there, we can only hope voice support for the Foxtel app, Windows Media centre, or the network music and video players is on someone’s feature list for future releases.
Bing for Xbox
Paging through the tabs in the interface you may notice the new Bing search functionality; this is based on the same Bing search engine available online and even sports the same great images refreshed daily. Now you can search in one place and get results from the games, music and video marketplaces, as well as the new apps marketplace. So if you’re looking for X-Men, you can Bing it and see games, movies, even music all related to the X-Men franchise. Given the way the marketplace has grown over the last 6 years since the 360 launched, having the ability to effectively search this content is a welcome addition in my book – and with the new ways for music and video content to be discovered it really does become a must.
Unfortunately support for the Australian accent is not turned on for Bing so no long nights of shouting “Xbox Bing X-Men!” to find content. The US, UK and Canada are getting the ability to speak to their Xbox in order to search for content, but due to the localization of the voice recognition that is needed to pick out any words at all, it’s going to take a bit more time for us. It’s not all bad news though; if you are typing your search term manually you will get plenty of autocomplete options to save you typing out whole words.
This is personally one my favourite features –with this new addition you can now store save game content directly “in the cloud”. The ultimate benefit of this is if you have more than one console that you play on then you will no longer need to carry a USB key from console to console. The way this is achieved is by pre-allocating 512MB of storage on the hard drive as a local cache for cloud content, and when you save a game or need to read your saves it will all still come from your hard drive. In the background though your Xbox will push your save games up to Microsoft’s servers. Then when you jump on to another Xbox it will sync up a list of your save games (it won’t pull them down to the Xbox yet though) –when you start to play a game you will see a small pop up that tells you it is syncing your cloud storage for that title, so by the time the opening developer logos and trademark notices have been shown, your Xbox will have an up-to-date save game for you ready to use. It is worth noting that you can only use this type of storage for save games – you can’t add other marketplace content to it (like game add-on’s or arcade titles), as they’re already able to be redownloaded via your purchase history on the Marketplace.
Following on from adding cloud storage, there is another win for those with more than one console – your profile can now work on more than one console! Previously when your recovered your gamer tag to a second Xbox you wouldn’t be able to sign in to the original one – not anymore though! No more carrying your USB drive with your profile on it around, just have a copy of your profile on each Xbox. Now when you sign in if you were last signed in on a different Xbox you will get a message telling you that. The sign in process was also changed a little in that if you don’t have a profile selected to auto-sign in then instead of coming to a pretty blank looking dashboard and the having to specifically choose to sign in, now you are shown a list of profiles and asked to select one. You can still hit B to back out to the dashboard without signing in, but it certainly makes the process of having multiple profiles on one Xbox ready to go, depending on who signs in.
Have you ever wanted to play a particular game, but weren’t sure which of your friends wanted to play the same game with you? Well then beacons are for you. A beacon is a way of letting your friends know that you want to play a specific game – for example, I could set beacons on Gears 3 and Halo Anniversary. Once set if anyone on my friends list starts playing one of these games they will get a notification that lets them know that I’m keen to play this game as well. You can also see beacons that someone has set through Xbox.com and you can get notifications of beacons that line up with your own through the Xbox tile on your Windows Phone 7 too. If you’re after something specific for a game (eg. a co-op partner, people who will be on during this weekend or even to help get achievements), you can add custom comments to your beacon to help find those interested in jumping online with you.
TV on Xbox
Foxtel has been providing a TV service to the Xbox for a while now, but with the dashboard update there is a little more focus on bringing TV content to the dashboard. You’ll notice a TV tab which will show you content that is on that you can watch, as well as tiles for Live TV and for the TV Guide. This makes it much quicker to skip to content within the Foxtel app. Add in the new ABC iView and SBS streaming apps, and there’s a wealth of local viewing content to peruse through.
The Facebook app has been on the Xbox for a while as well, but now we have some more integration between the Xbox and Facebook – you can now publish your achievements and beacons to your wall. On the first publish you will need to authorise your Xbox, and from there you can simply publish either of these types of content to your wall for all of your friends to see.
So there you have it – a run through of everything in the new dashboard. I’ve been using it for a little while now and I’ve gotta say it has really impressed me. There are a lot of changes to the dashboard that really do make content beyond just the games more accessible and it all feels very natural and is pretty easy to pick up. Hopefully you enjoy the update, make sure you let us know what you think in the comments as well!