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First look: the Xbox 360 Fall Dashboard update
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Sun Dec 09, 2007 7:47 am Reply and quote this post
Arstechnica wrote:
The details of the Xbox Fall Dashboard updatehave been available for a few days, but now that the update itself hasbeen released, we can take a look and see if this is worth talkingabout or if it's just another incremental improvement to the Xbox 360experience. After waking up a tad on the early side to download theupdate and give it a good going over, we're happy to report that thereare several welcome changes that are indeed exciting.

The first thing you'll notice is that the entire dashboard is snappier.It used to be a laggy experience to zoom around your content, but nowit feels crisp and fast. The first thing you should do afterdownloading the update is to check out the new home blade. Your friendslist and messages are now on the same line to make things easier, andabove that you have the "Inside Xbox" section that allows you to getsystem and gaming news. Right now, you'll see Major Nelson introducingthe update and walking you through some of the features in two shortvideos. I was worried that the Inside Xbox content was going tooverpower whatever section it was in, but this layout makes it easy toignore if you don't want to see the news—and easy to find if you wantto see what Microsoft would love to sell you this week.

The next big update is the friends of friends feature.Now, on a new bio page you can put your real name in your profile andgive yourself a block of text to say whatever it is that's on yourmind. Via this page, other people can also view your friends list, soyou can see the people your friends regularly play with. This shouldmake building communities around certain games much easier, althoughsupport for clans would work even better for this purpose. If you'dlike to keep yourself to yourself, you can block this feature, but the more social gamers of the world should enjoy the notoriety these new social functions make possible.
The support for DivX and Xvid made waves when it was announced, but theactual implementation is a mixed bag. I've had no problems getting allmy files to work; it's wonderful to have more versatility when it comesto what will play on the hardware. Some other Ars Technica staffershave files that don't seem to like the Xbox 360, so your mileage mayvary depending on what exact format your content is in.
The other problem is the issue of how the content gets to the 360. The media playback FAQMicrosoft makes available shows that these files are only availablethrough certain means. For example, if you're using Windows Home Serverto stream to your system, you can play protected and unprotected WMVfiles, as well as AVI files. From Windows Media Center to Xbox MediaCenter Extender? You can play protected and unprotected WMV files andMpeg2 files. From Windows Media Player 11 to the system you can playprotected and unprotected WMV files, Mpeg4 files, H.264 and AVI files.Be sure to read the FAQ thoroughly to make sure your method of gettingcontent to the system allows the type of files you'd like to play; it'snot immediately apparent what will and won't work.
The update also brings the ability to purchase and play Xbox games for $15, with Halo, Fable, Indigo Prophecy, Burnout 3, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, and Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge available.This area of the marketplace has a decidedly retro Xbox look to it,which adds a bit of levity to buying the content. There are many otheraspects of the reorganization of your games that will become clear asyou play with the update, and they all add up to make the dashboardmuch more user-friendly. Unfortunately your demos still show up in yourgames list with zeros for achievements; this issue has been fixedmoving forward, but doesn't fix the listings for demos you've alreadyplayed. The much-hyped family timer is also available for those who wish to limit their kids' play time on the system.
The update is, overall, a nice improvement, and while the new videoformat support is far from perfect, the media updates are a step in theright direction. The entire dashboard has become quicker and easier touse, and Microsoft has included more ways of getting you informationand making sure you see all the content you can buy through the system.Everyone wins.

Contributed by Editorial Team, Executive Management Team
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