Saturday, December 10, 2011

Xbox 360 Fall 2011 System Update Impressions

Earlier this week, the Fall 2011 System Update for the Xbox 360 went live, and unsurprisingly it had a bit of a bumpy start.

Delayed by almost an entire day, Xbox LIVE had connectivity issues after the Update finally did launch this past Tuesday, and some people had issues getting it installed and even lost their Profile! Thankfully I didn't have anything that serious, though installation was somewhat complicated due to spotty connectivity and it appears there are two parts to the Update itself, but after a little patience all was well.

Regardless, once done, you're presented with the complete layout overhaul of the Xbox 360 Dashboard. Fully embracing Microsoft's Metro design, there are now several Channels at your disposal which are navigated from left to right on your screen (LB and RB are your friends here). Once you're on a Channel you'll see a cluster of tiles representing the options you can select, videos you can watch, etc.

Now, I honestly need to say that I find the new Metro and tile look of the Dashboard ugly and a major step backwards. It looks very cluttered to me, and while it can be navigated with a Controller there's no question that this design is Kinect centric. Microsoft, not everyone wants Kinect and Dashboard navigation isn't the reason the peripheral isn't in everyone's living room, lack of quality games for it are.

Releasing a Kinect-focused design only frustrates those of us without the sensor, and we're not going to go and buy one just because you change things on us.

Having said that, the Xbox 360 Guide has survived mostly intact and navigating it is a lot faster than the Dashboard itself if you're using a Controller. Everything is laid out like you remember via the Guide, so using it when you're stuck or looking for something will be a huge help.

Cosmetic and layout issues aside, and the fact that ads are bloody everywhere now, the Fall 2011 System Update does add some cool new features to your Xbox 360 console.

Your Profile is now a Roaming Profile, and you can confidently download it at a Friend's place without fear of corruption that was common enough with the old Account Recovery option. Not only that but when you get home, since you didn't need to Move your Profile, you can just log on and play as per normal!

Cloud Storage is also now available to Gold members, meaning you can access your save games from any console in which you have your Profile on. Not only does Cloud Storage make a handy back up, but honestly, combined with Roaming Profile, it pretty much removes the need for a USB Flashdrive save as a final redundancy back-up option.

The Xbox LIVE Marketplace has been butchered with the new design, however Microsoft has added Bing, giving it its own Channel, which allows you to type or voice search (with Kinect) for anything you want. While this sort of works, the previous Xbox LIVE Marketplace was superior in terms of accessibility.

Other new features, such as YouTube, Rogers on Demand, etc., are Coming Soon and not yet available, so I can't comment on how great or not they are. I believe a Gold Membership will be required for access along with many of the other new features.

Beacons are another addition, allowing you to specify what game(s) you want to play and the service with automatically notify your Friends, even hours later provided you've let the Beacon remain active. I personally have not used or experienced Beacons yet as the games I'm playing right now are being played by few of my Friends, but I hear this feature is extremely annoying. Apparently there's no way to disable Beacon alerts, and many are finding them distracting when they're trying to play.

And that's pretty much it. I can still play games, my Xbox 360 still works, but now the Dashboard looks uglier, is more annoying to navigate, but in exchange I've gotten some cool new features that won't really re-invent the wheel.

I do honestly wish Microsoft would stop redesigning the Dashboard each year. I know it generates press, but really, do we need a whole new look this often? Had only the new features themselves been added, I would have personally been far more impressed with this System Update.

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