Canadians celebrate new Xbox 360 dashboard, long for Netflix-like partnership

xbox 360Xbox 360 owners should be excited about the announcements Microsoft made today at E3! A number of new games were shown, including Fable 2, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, and Resident Evil 5 (interesting that the most anticipated games are all sequels). They announced a bunch of new downloadable games, and will finally make community-designed games available in the next update. They’re enabling “play from hard drive” functionality, and have added a few new display support options.

Other new features include the ability to browse Xbox Live Marketplace content on the web, and the Xbox Live Party System which enables up to eight friends to connect to watch a movie, play a game, or share photos. Related to that feature are the new avatars, an extension to gamertags akin to Nintendo’s Mii.

And then there’s the two biggest announcements of all: the dashboard is getting a makeover, and Live Gold members will soon have access to Netflix streaming. When I heard about the dashboard update I thought, “finally”:

“When people turn on their Xbox 360s this fall, they’ll get an entirely new interface and Dashboard, an entirely new Xbox through the magic of software,” said John Schappert, head of Live services.

Microsoft is a software company after all, it’s about time they take advantage of that to do some cool new things with the console.

When I heard about the Netflix streaming feature, I thought “cool”. I agreed right away with MG Siegler:

With one fell swoop, Microsoft may have dealt its strongest blow in the consumer market to Apple in years.

Then I realized I live in Canada.

Netflix only serves U.S. customers at the moment, and as far as I know plans to expand to Canada and the UK were shelved a long time ago. The amount of content on Xbox Live for Canadians is already far behind our American counterparts, and this announcement just means we’re even further behind. As Mathew Ingram says:

If what you like is anything made by the CBC and the occasional CTV show like Little Mosque on the Prairie, then you are probably going to be in heaven. Otherwise, you are out of luck.

Sad, but true. I’m excited for the new dashboard and other features, but once again disappointed that as a Canadian my access to media via the Internet is severely limited.

Two Years of Xbox 360, Five Years of Xbox Live

Post Image It was two years ago today that I lined up at Best Buy very early in the morning to be among the first to snag the Xbox 360 gaming console. So, happy birthday Xbox 360! Kind of hard to believe it has been that long.

Last Thursday was another anniversary – the fifth for Xbox Live! It’s even harder to believe the service has been around that long – it launched exactly a year after the original Xbox console. My latest article at last100 examines Xbox Live:

Xbox Live started out as a multiplayer gaming network, but today the 8 million users with Live accounts do much more than just play games. Users can download movies and television shows, chat with friends, and more. Even Microsoft now describes the service as a “comprehensive unified online entertainment network”. Marketing-speak at its finest, but it’s true – Xbox Live is a key component of Microsoft’s connected entertainment vision. In this post we look at the state of Xbox Live today, and explore some of the ways Microsoft will likely enhance it in the future.

Give it a read, and let me know what you think!

Read: last100

Build the next Tetris for Xbox Live Arcade

Post ImageSmart move Microsoft! It’s no secret that one of the biggest selling points for the Xbox 360 is the Xbox Live service, and specifically the Arcade which contains relatively simple games. Now Microsoft is making moves to further increase the importance of XBLA:

Microsoft plans to announce a contest akin to the television show “Project Greenlight” that will award a cash prize and a potential slot on Xbox Live Arcade to the best new game created with XNA tools. The company intends to announce the winner of the contest, called “Dream-Build-Play,” in August.

That’s pretty cool! Imagine seeing your game in the Xbox Live Arcade…that would be sweet. You can learn more about Microsoft’s XNA tools here.

Read: NYTimes.com

Xbox 360 to offer movies and television via Live

Post ImageMicrosoft has announced that starting November 22nd, which just happens to be the one year anniversary of the Xbox 360, users will be able to download standard and high definition TV shows and movies. This is a big deal, make no mistake about it. Engadget has some more details on the service, dubbed Xbox Live Video. Pricing has not yet been announced, but we do know payment will be made in Microsoft points.

Here are some choice quotes from around the web. From Microsoft Monitor:

Rental is something Microsoft offers that Apple doesn’t. And Microsoft will offer HD content, too, which is really smart. It’s not just differentiating from iTunes or other services, but preserving the user experience. Xbox 360 is very much about the HD experience.

From Don Dodge:

Stay tuned for more Live services. It is going to be tough to keep up with all the announcements coming from Microsoft over the next few months. It just gets better every day.

And not as positive, from GigaOM:

With just 20 gigs in the consoles standard hard drive set-up, youre talking about 10 high definition TV episodes or five HD movies. Most gamers can churn through that content in days.

I would not be surprised if Microsoft announced a larger hard drive in the near future.

All of a sudden, owning an Xbox 360 is about more than being a gamer. It’s great news for people like me, a fairly casual gamer. I knew the 360 would be big on media when I bought it, but I had no idea this was coming. I can’t wait to see what they launch next!

Read: Xbox.com

Xbox 360 Initial Review

Post ImageI am calling this an “initial review” because I expect that my opinions will change over time as I use the system more, learn more about it, and get some new and interesting games. So far, I am incredibly impressed with the Xbox 360, and here’s why:

Physical Design
The Xbox 360 is a very attractive device, and is definitely more than just an evolution over the original Xbox. Dickson remarked that he thought silver might have been a better color, but I actually quite like the white and silvery-grey color scheme. The 360 is also a very appropriate size, meaning it’s not big and clunky, but it’s not tiny and fragile either. The ability to stand upright or down flat is also a cool design feature, and one that I think more devices should have. Another nice feature is that the console doesn’t feel too heavy. The USB ports are nicely hidden away until you need them, as are the memory ports. The controller feels natural and comfortable in your hands, unlike the original Xbox controller.

Perhaps the only design feature that I really do not like about the 360 is the power brick. The thing is massive, as you can see here. I guess they were really worried about another problem like the original Xbox had, but seriously, the thing is massive. The console itself is smaller, lightweight and perfect for taking from place to place, but that damn power brick would seriously make any trip a lot more work.

Technology
I’m sure you’ve heard all about the three cores the Xbox 360 has, the fancy video capabilities, etc. Unfortunately I haven’t really been able to see them in action yet, so I don’t really want to comment. There’s other technology though, like the wireless controllers – easy to setup, comfortable, and you don’t notice any lag or anything. They work great! I like that there are three USB ports (two at the front, one at the back), though I wonder if I could plug in a USB hub – I’ll have to try that. Would have been nice to have wireless Internet integrated, instead of a separate purchase! I have to go to Andrew’s to try the HD features on his fancy TV, but the cable alone makes me want a better TV!

Xbox Dashboard
I really like the Xbox Dashboard (the software that acts as your interface with the device). The interface is extremely intuitive, and it also looks very attractive. Everything seems to be laid out quite well, and the different areas of the console (Xbox Live, Games, Media, System) are color coded. The only oddity is that sometimes an information screen or input panel appears on the right and sometimes on the left. There’s probably a pattern, I just haven’t used it enough to figure it out yet. (I don’t know what they call them, but think of a horizontal toast (those little MSN popups in Windows)).

Xbox Live
The integration of the console with Xbox Live is very deep, and I think it works very well. Xbox Live definitely feels like it’s an integral part of the console, one of those killer features. I only have a Silver membership right now but that will probably change as soon as I get some more games. My gamertag is MAQXBL. I definitely need to explore the Xbox Live Marketplace and some of the other features before I comment too much. So far I have noticed there’s lots of videos and demos for download (I am downloading the Kameo demo now).

Media
Much has been written about the 360 being Microsoft’s trojan horse into the living room – and my oh my were those articles ever correct. I am currently listening to music that is stored on my computer, but is being played through the Xbox 360 (which is hooked up to the big speakers). I can also view pictures that are on my computer on the TV using the 360. If I had a Media Center PC the integration would be even tighter, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox 360 spurs sales of those computers. The interface is pretty good, and everything just works which is the important thing. Well almost everything. I couldn’t get the 360 to recognize my Zen Touch or my Canon Digital Rebel, though the instructions say I need to change a setting on each of the devices to make them send stuff over the USB. Not sure how to get that working, but I’ll play with it a little more.

Games
Finally I get to the games, which is really what the console is all about right? I picked up Perfect Dark Zero yesterday, and Dickson and I played a few co-op missions last night. It’s a pretty neat game, though in some places it felt as though it was sort of rushed. There is lots more to explore in the game though, so I’m quite happy with it. The 360 also comes with Hexic HD, which is an Xbox Live Arcade game similar to Bejeweled. It’s pretty addicting, even though it’s quite simple.

When you play a game on the Xbox 360, you can press the Guide button (big Xbox button on the controller) to bring up a screen showing your Gamer Card, the music player, links to Xbox Live, and some other stuff. Very neat integration! I need to get some different games to see how it works, because I expect there will be some cool Marketplace integration too. Unfortunately the screen isn’t available when playing an old Xbox game on the 360, but that’s okay.

Other
There’s lots of little things about the Xbox 360 that are just great. Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • The ability to turn the console on using just the wireless controller is a very smart feature.
  • I like how the Xbox Live headset plugs into the base of the controller, which makes sense having a wireless controller and all! Would be neat if it supported Bluetooth though too.
  • The music player has some really intense visualizations!
  • The ethernet cable that comes with the Xbox 360 is very long – much appreciated! I hate when the cables you get are like two feet long.
  • The only impossible to open package was the second controller I bought. None of that annoying hard plastic stuff in the console box, just easy to open plastic bags. Again, much appreciated!
  • The hard-drive is removable. Genius!
  • Halo 2 works as expected.

The lineup yesterday morning at Best Buy was fine until they opened the doors and just let everyone through. It was utter chaos as people pushed and shoved their way to the accessories and games. I was very lucky to have grabbed the second controller. Just a sign that Microsoft has done a great job stirring up interest in the console. I wouldn’t be surprised if Xbox 360 sales shatter the predictions all the analysts are making.

So I’m hooked now. There’s so much to like about the Xbox 360! I can’t wait until I get some different games as well, to see how the Xbox 360 really performs.

Read: Xbox.com