First look at the new Xbox Live: the 5 biggest improvements in this falls dashboard update

The 360 experience is evolving once again – here’s what to expect, and what to be excited about

This fall, the Xbox Live experience will evolve once more. Past dashboard updates have brought us features like Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, ESPN and customizable avatars. So what’s new this time? Yesterday we spoke with Terry Farrell, Senior Product Manager of Xbox, about the coming changes and, for your convenience, stuck the most significant ones in this handy list right here.

1. New design

Aesthetically, the new Xbox Live is very different from the current design. The channels are gone, replaced by a look similar to that of the Windows Phone interface. The update is much cleaner, showing fewer items on screen while still clearly presenting the options that users can navigate to. Plus, the new dashboard can be interacted with using Kinect’s motion and voice commands, so having to switch back and forth between the main controller-directed areas and the specific Kinect areas will soon be a thing of the past.

2. Enhanced performance

Microsoft is also attempting to improve the speed and performance of the menus. Even though the build that we toured was not final, no hitches or hiccups presented themselves – menus popped up quickly and navigation seemed responsive when using Kinect. Our demo of the dashboard didn’t include advertisements, video or audio clips like the current interface does, however, and that will be the true test of performance. For now, we’re optimistic.

3. Social broadcasting

The Xbox Live team plans on further integrating social networks such as Facebook (and presumably Twitter) into the core gaming experience. One intriguing new idea is beacons. A beacon allows players to broadcast to friends that they want to play a specific game. These broadcasts can be sent through Xbox Live or Facebook, and will feature custom messages that can be attached to the beacon, making it easy for friends and other gamers to get organized and play multiplayer games together online.

4. Achievement sharing

Another social media feature mentioned was the ability to automatically post the Achievements that you unlock to Facebook. Now, that may sound like the biggest source of spam to hit your news feed since Farmville, but rest assured it will come with an option to filter out the insignificant Achievements. For example, your friends will only see that you finished Gears of War 3 on insane difficulty, not that you just finished the tutorial.

5. Search with voice

Xbox is partnering with search engine Bing (they’re both Microsoft products, after all) to streamline the way that consumers find media through their consoles. With a Kinect handy, simply saying, “Xbox, Bing Batman” – the new search technology will pull up any relevant results, from separate sources, and put them on the screen. This includes movies, games, music, Netflix, and Hulu results, all related to Batman. Users save time not only by avoiding the exercise of chicken pecking out the search query on the controller keyboard or the joystick, but also by reducing the number of places needed to look. If The Dark Knight isn’t available on Netflix, but is available on Zune Movies, you’ll know instantly.

And more on the way…

Microsoft will be adding more and more new features, partners, and content to its Xbox Live service well into 2012, helping to solidify the Xbox 360 as a center of entertainment for the home. Although the developers couldn’t give us any specific names, they promised they will be revealing their partnerships with TV cable operators in the near future, and that the services that come out of those partnerships will have features unique to Xbox 360 and its social features built-in. Using voice commands to find TV content in the new search engine and joining friends, chatting, or leaving comments as they watch their favorite TV shows, sports or movies are just two improvements coming. Cloud storage and roaming profiles are also definite possibilities for the future, but Microsoft representatives told us that they are saving those details for a later time.

Are you excited or apprehensive about the new Xbox Live update? Is this a step forward or back? Share your thoughts below.

Sep 9, 2011

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