New Bells and Whistles for Xbox
I was about to chase my mailman down the sidewalk on Saturday morning to get him to take a DVD-sized red envelope off my hands. Then I remembered, I don't need to do that anymore thanks to a new partnership Netflix has with Microsoft.
Microsoft is pushing out a major software update to Web-connected Xbox owners today which, among other things, will let Xbox owners with a Netflix subscription watch movies instantly on their game console. I got an early look at the new Xbox interface this past weekend.
What's new? Well, avatars for one thing.
For the most part, the new interface seems like a lateral move to me. Before today, when you'd click on a button on the Xbox game controller to check for friends online, a menu would pop up on the left side of the screen. Now, a similar menu pops up in the middle of the screen. Overall, the interface relies on large image icons, as opposed to the "page" (or "blade") metaphor used up till now. It's a fresh new look, but I didn't have any problems with the old one.
There are a few interesting new features. One lets players load a game disc's content onto the Xbox's hard-drive memory, allowing the notoriously loud console to run a little more quietly as you play your favorite game. People who spend a lot of time playing online together can build a "party" in order to stay in touch more easily as a group.
As for those avatars, I put together a dude with a beehive hairdo, a white disco suit and a comb-shaped mustache to represent me as my face on Xbox's Live service. Chuckle, chuckle. My seven-year-old stepson will enjoy messing around with this new function, but what the point is for the rest of us, I dunno quite yet. Perhaps it will make more sense as my Xbox friends build their online alter-egos in the coming days.
That Netflix service works easily enough. Just enter a 4-digit code on your Netflix account at your computer and make a fast little download on the Xbox. After that, a Netflix section of the Xbox interface shows a list of DVD covers that you can instantly watch. Alas, it seems that you can't peruse the Netflix "view instantly" library on your Xbox; the new channel only offers up movies that you already have selected in your queue.
If you try out the new interface and have a thought, please post here, drop me a line or, heck, contact me via Xbox (gamertag: MikeShotgun).
November 19, 2008; 9:00 AM ET
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