A Guide to the New Xbox Experience

Come November 19, a New Xbox Experience will dawn for Xbox 360 owners. More than just a simple dashboard update, the free download brings an entirely new look and feel to the system's interface, adding a number of new features in the process.

Come November 19, a New Xbox Experience will dawn for Xbox 360 owners.

More than just a simple dashboard update, the free download brings an entirely new look and feel to the system's interface, adding a number of new features in the process.

After using the NXE for over a week now, I can confidently state it's an improvement, even though I never had a problem with the old interface. I have a few quibbles, but for the most part, I really like it. Heck, I even like my Avatar and his slick aviator sunglasses.

The most obvious change is the new interface, which replaces the old 2D blades with a slick 3D aesthetic that is much smoother and more user friendly.

Simply tap up or down to move from category to category--through the Game Marketplace, My Xbox, Friends list, etc. Scrolling through the various options is accomplished by simply hitting left or right.

For those that prefer the old interface, don't fret too much. Tapping the Guide button of the controller brings up a miniature set of blades that offers quick access to everything the system has to offer, including a classic-style list of online Friends.

Though far less crowded than the old interface, the reliance on stacked images provides more room for advertising without being too obnoxious about it. In fact, three of the seven categories--Spotlight, Events, and Inside Xbox--are nothing but Microsoft ads.

The only issue here is that if you boot to the dashboard, the system will automatically display the Spotlight category each time. It would be much nicer if I could default to the My Xbox category, which lets you launch discs or choose from your library of Xbox Live Arcade games, instead of being notified that Lips is in stores today.

Speaking of Xbox Live Arcade, the New Xbox Experience resolves that pesky loading and counting issue from the dashboards of old. All of your downloaded Xbox Live Arcade games and demos automatically appear when you go into the list--no more waiting for games to pop up as the list is repopulated.

There's also a handy Quick Launch section in the pop-up Guide, which displays a list of the most recently played games and most recently downloaded files, such as Netflix, for quick access.

Avatars are another one of those major changes. The first time you log in under the New Xbox Experience, you'll be asked to make an Avatar by selecting a generic template and customizing it to your liking. This can take as little or as long as you'd like.

I was honestly surprised by the Avatar system, as I wasn't looking forward to it at all. But I found that making a virtual recreation of myself was an oddly satisfying experience.

In addition to appearing in the new Friends category, Avatars will pop up in supported games, such as Scene It? Box Office Smash, UNO, Bomberman Live, Hardwood Hearts, Hardwood Spades and A Kingdom for Keflings.

Moving forward, expect to discover new Avatar parts as you earn Achievements, and don't be surprised if an Avatar Parts Store pops up at some point.

Xbox Live Marketplace
To fit with the new interface, your one-stop shop for virtual goods as been redesigned as well. The new design makes the store much easier to navigate, and remove the need for Microsoft to to de-list under-performing Xbox Live Arcade games.

The New Xbox Live Marketplace, Left. Old Marketplace, Right.

Oh, one more thing. You'll be able to peruse the Xbox Live Marketplace from your PC, allowing remote purchases that will be automatically downloaded the next time that particular Xbox Live Account signs on from an Xbox 360.

Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_

Friends and Parties
The Friends list is a little different now too, but again, don't fret. You can still access the traditional, straight-up list of your friends from the Guide. Expanding on the Party system that proved so popular in the Halo games, the Xbox now lets you group friends together, making sure you all stick together as you hop from game to game, or just chill out, chat, and share some photos. In the future, you and your party will be even be able to watch streaming movies together.

With the arrival of the New Xbox Experience, those that are both Xbox Live Gold members and Netflix subscribers will be able to stream over 12,000 videos from Netflix, with a limited number of them being in HD.

The only annoyance is that you can't peruse all of Netflix's streaming library from the Xbox 360. It's your Neftlix.com Instant Queue, so you'll need to use a computer and log in to Netflix.com if you want to watch a show or movie that isn't already on your list.

But it's hard to complain once you've got a solid Queue of shows to sit back and watch, especially as it tracks exactly when you pause of stop a video, allowing you to pick up from that exact moment later on, even if you leave the application.

Game Installs
Almost any Xbox 360 game can be optionally installed to the hard drive. For some games, such as Grand Theft Auto 4, The Orange Box and Fallout 3, this reduces load times. But for some others, like Halo 3, installation actually increases load times.

Some also say that certain games, such as Fable 2, benefit from a sharper and more colorful appearance as the hard drive lets high-resolution assets load faster. [videofeature]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc9tzrK5IbU&ap=%2526fmt%3D18[img]/extras/faylor/360_game_install_prev.jpg[/img][/videofeature]

To install, go to the Xbox 360 dashboard while a game disc is in the drive, select the disc in My Xbox, hit Y for Game Details, and then choose Install to Hard Drive.

However, don't think that you won't need the disc after the game's installed. For copy protection purposes, the proper disc must be in the console for the game to run.

Community Games
The arrival of the New Xbox Experience also signals the launch of the Community Games program, which lets XNA Game Creators sell their games through the Xbox Live Marketplace for 200 Microsoft Points ($2.50), 400 ($5) or 800 Microsoft Points ($10).

Left, Loot, Steal 'n Destroy by reallyjoel. Right, Galax-e-mail by BogTurtleCarl

Prior to their debut, the games go through a vigorous peer review process, with developers receiving 40-70% of the game's revenue, depending on promotional costs.

At present, 28 Community Games are available, ranging from Fruit Attack to Galax-e-mail to Loot, Steal 'n Destroy, all of which are accompanied by free demos.

Intro Video
The first time you boot the NXE, you'll be greeted with a cosmic trip.

The Future
As the New Xbox Experience utilizes a server-based setup, it's now much easier for Microsoft to roll out updates and new functionality, freeing it from the previous Spring and Fall update cycle. The company has declared the NXE "a long term initiative."

Primetime, originally slated to launch with the NXE, is an online quiz show that allows players compete for actual prizes. It is now expected next spring.

Online movie sharing was also postponed, with Microsoft vowing that the promised feature is "coming soon".

As for updates to the Netflix streaming, Microsoft is remaining quiet, telling Shacknews that it's "not announcing anything on future Netflix queue management right now."

Added Microsoft: "We are super excited to be able to leverage this exclusive partnership as a signal of where we're heading---not just for the U.S. but for our members abroad."

One More Thing...
It's not a major feature, but some will be thrilled to know that you can finally remove games from your achievements list, so long as you haven't earned any achievements from them. Just pull up the Guide, go to Achievements and scroll through that list. A little X icon and "Delete Game History" text will appear if the option is available.

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