Xbox Live 'Holiday 2011' dashboard preview

More sweeping changes are coming to the Xbox 360 dashboard, Microsoft revealed at E3 2011. Although the console's UI was just recently changed with the launch of the Kinect sensor, Microsoft has decided to refine the "Xbox 360 experience" once more. Now, if you can "see it," you can "say it." That of course is the mantra for those rocking Kinect sensors, opening every element of the console up to voice commands and search. For those without the sensor, the dashboard update has been paired down to minimize clutter and speed up the process of finding the content you want. The new user interface is partially inspired by Windows Phone 7, Xbox Live's senior product manager Terry Farrell told me during a preview of the upcoming dashboard. Though the new 'left and right' access to content looks ripped out of Sony's XMB at first glance, the new Xbox dashboard uses each area like a hub to your favorite content. There aren't multiple 'blades' of content to sift through; core content is presented in a simple collection of boxes in each hub. At launch players will be given a homepage that allows for access to the console's disc tray and a refined 'Quickplay' section of the console. Currently, the Xbox 360 has the ability to 'Quick Launch' the last five games on your profile but with the new 'Quickplay' you can launch anything from your active history, including applications like Netflix and Hulu. The update is meant to make things cleaner and easier to use, but Kinect functionality is its main focus. Right now, the dashboard is split into two parts for users with Kinect, with a completely different dashboard opening for those using Kinect. "That nonsense is gone," Farrell said. This update brings Kinect functionality throughout the entire dashboard, allowing users to do everything via motion, using their own voice, with a controller or any combination in between.

Gone are the stacks of info, replaced with cleaner grids.

What impressed me the most was Farrell's promise that the system will be able to sort all available content based on all applications on the console. What this means is if you see The Dark Knight in your search results, it will tell you if it's available on the Zune Marketplace, Netflix, Hulu, and more. Farrell himself admits to being burned by paying for a Zune Marketplace rental that he later discovered was available on Netflix. This granular approach to filtering will hopefully solve that issue in the future. Where things get complicated, Farrell said, are things like adding YouTube results to Xbox Live-wide searches. "YouTube is kinda crazy with the amount of titles people can name and just throw up there. We can't guarantee we'll have all of that stuff day one, but we'll be continually evolving the Dashboard on the back end to get it there," Farrell explained. Facebook sharing will also get an upgrade, allowing users to annoy their friends with posts about their recent Achievements. Microsoft is also giving developers the ability to interact with this feature, allowing them use Facebook and Twitter sharing directly from the console without having it being built into the game. This is a cause for concern of course as those types of constant messages can ruin friendships, but Farrell promises all of these features can be disabled by the user. No video was allowed during the preview and a few questions about things like Live TV partners went unanswered, but Farrell said more will be revealed over time and a beta would be open to the press next month. The new dashboard update is planned to launch this holiday.