Monday, August 03, 2009
Xbox LIVE Update Preview Impressions
Set to launch on August 11th, the Xbox 360 will be receiving an additional System Update which they're simply referring to this time around as an Xbox LIVE Update.
While the Xbox LIVE Update has not gone, um, Live, yet, Microsoft is hosting a Preview Program, a Beta, allowing many lucky gamers the chance to experience the Xbox LIVE Update early and collecting feedback. One such lucky gamer is yours truly, and like I did with the New Xbox Experience, you can find my impressions of the Xbox LIVE Update below.
Unlike the New Xbox Experience, I was selected in the first wave of the Xbox LIVE Update Preview Program, and the update process went smoothly and without incident. You're first prompted to download an Update like with any old System Update, which takes less than a minute and your console will restart. Next, like with the New Xbox Experience, an installer will launch, performing another download and installation, after which your console will restart yet again. I did experience a little hick-up here, where after the first restart, I received the message "Could not download update," however I'm assuming this is because I do not have Auto Sign-In enabled, and once I manually signed in to Xbox LIVE, all was well. The second download took about 2 minutes, and the overall Update time took about 4 minutes.
Now, unlike the New Xbox Experience, the Xbox LIVE Update is nothing near as large or revolutionary. Don't expect to find Facebook or Twitter integration just yet, and really, aside from the Avatar Marketplace, the majority of the changes are mainly improvements or optimizations to existing features.
If you hide your Dashboard's Welcome Channel it's back, however you can immediately perma-hide it again, and you'll now find a Preview Channel with details and FAQs about the Preview right above the My Xbox Channel, however I assume the Preview Channel will be removed after the Beta is complete.
Otherwise, all the other Channels are there. Various Game Marketplace sub-channels have renamed as I'm sure you've read elsewhere, however at present, there is nothing new in the Games on Demand Channel; it's still all Xbox Originals. You can, however, now Rate all content featured on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, which I did with Gears of War 2 as a test. Presently, the game has an overall 4 out of 5 Star rating, but you can also go and Rate all the Map Packs, Themes, Trailers, etc. individually if you'd like.
The My Xbox Channel has seen some changes, the most notable being the Achievement sorting as well as the addition of a Solution sub-channel to the left of System Settings. In it, you'll find answers about common questions to account management, LIVE Connectivity, and Controller set up. While this likely wouldn't help you out in the event of hardware failure, it is nice to have a help option right there on the Dashboard for simpler things. You can also eject a game disc via your Controller by pressing "X" when the Game Disc panel is highlighted.
For Achievements, there's now a master panel that shows your total Gamer Score earned compared to your total possible Gamer Score, as well as your total number of Achievements earned compared to the total possible there. It also shows you how many games you've gotten all the Achievements for, but keep in mind this takes into account any new DLC launched as well. So if you've gotten every Achievement for Fallout 3, as an example, the game would no longer be "complete" until you purchase and collect every Achievement in Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta. For each individual game, the Achievements are sorted better as well, but I didn't find it anything too world-altering.
For System Settings, I use a Component connection, so I couldn't tinker with the new HDMI options, but your items under Memory are all time and date stamped, which I can see coming in handy, and you'll also find an actual option to Clear your Cache, no more button code required.
For the Xbox 360 Guide, I'm happy to say the Friends list loads up faster now by a good bit, and it also boasts additional sorting options. They changed a few of the buttons around because of this, which took a little getting used to, and I'm happy to say I only accidentally invited one of my Friends to a Party once.
As mentioned, the Avatar Marketplace is the biggest new addition with the Xbox LIVE Update. Accessed from your Avatar Customization screen, you can now buy a bunch of clothes or Props for your Avatar. Most of the clothes, including shirts and hats from Halo 3, Fable II, and some other places that I think might be American retail chains, run for roughly 80 Microsoft Points a piece, but the props range from roughly 350 Microsoft Points to 400 Microsoft Points. The props so far have ranged from a Halo RC Warthog to a giant cotton swap. If you select one of these items, you Avatar will preview them for you. Thus far, no items that I can see are offered for free to Preview members, and there's also a section for "Earned Items," of which I have none thus far. Not sure what I need to do and what games support this either.
Now, the Xbox LIVE Update Preview has moved on to it's third wave of members, and with the addition of this third wave, an additional Beta Update has been released containing fixes and such for bugs that were found. Sadly, with this additional Beta Update, I experienced one heart-stopping issue.
The Beta Update downloaded and my console restarted as expected, but it re-booted with some very series video distortion; it almost looked like old style cable scrambling.
I could see the updater though, and it downloaded and installed the new Beta Update, and then my console restarted yet again with the same distortion. I could tell I was at the Xbox 360 Dashboard, so I pressed the Guide Button, and then my TV's display would cut out to the default blue no-signal background, displaying an "Unusable Signal" message. After several seconds, it'd drop back to a distorted Dashboard.
I then pressed and held to Console's power button to force it to shut down, counted to 10, and booted it up again. To clarify, this was my first manual reboot. My Xbox 360 console booted up fine, and I have not had any issues since. I've tested games, streaming and download video, tinkered with menus, changed settings, etc. and thankfully there's been no further distortion. Honestly, I feared the Beta Update triggered E74 or another video card issue, and I have no idea at all what exactly happened. Since I'm using a Component connection, it shouldn't be using any of the new HDMI features, but perhaps there was a glitch there?
Regardless, the only change I've noticed since this Beta Update is that installed games to your HDD generally take up less space. Not automatically, mind you, you'll need to delete any currently installed ones and then re-install them, but I first noticed this when I installed BioShock and it only came to 4.7 GB, which seemed rather small to me. I re-installed Gears of War 2, which was 6.7 GB, and it's now 6.3 GB I believe. Overall, any space saved is a plus in my book.
So there you have it, my impressions and details on the upcoming Xbox LIVE Update. Really nothing too crazy, but definitely steps in the right direction. Personally though, if I may, there are a few additional features and options that I would like to see added to the Xbox 360 Dashboard. The first being an option to select the My Xbox Channel as your starting Channel. The second being when you select any ad for a specific piece of Marketplace Content, that you immediately go to just that content to begin downloading it like with the original Dashboard. I never liked how the New Xbox Experience forces you to go to that game's overall download page, thus forcing me to select the item I wanted yet again.
And finally, I'd love to see an option to homicide Avatars. I really hate those cute little fuckers, and if I wanted a Wii, I'd go buy a Wii. If I could buy a Gears of War Lancer Assault Rifle as an Avatar Prop, and use it to butcher other Avatars, I'd pay whatever cost they wanted. Provided all the gore would be included, that is.