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New Bells and Whistles for Xbox

Mike Musgrove

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).

By Mike Musgrove  |  November 19, 2008; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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I think its pretty funny (and also potentially a major lawsuit) that Sony ordered netflix to pull all of its Columbia movies from instant viewing for the 360. While Sony is out to protect the ps3, its damaging its brand name and opening itself up to litigation. Not a smart move in my book.

Posted by: sag969 | November 19, 2008 11:10 AM

So, does this still allow you to get movies in the mail if you download through x box?

Posted by: rdy4all2000 | November 19, 2008 3:34 PM

I have to say I'm disappointed with the new front end for the 360. The update requires a 16meg download which for those of us using the 360 without a harddrive is a sizeable download and if i decline the update I can no longer access xboxlive. As a result I'm now left in the unenviable position of either deleting save games, not being able to use xbox live at all or purchasing a harddrive none of which seem to be a favourable choice. I may be a cynic but I can't help thinking that this may be a way to incentivise basic 360 custs to add a harddrive, which is pretty predatory whichever way you look at it.

Posted by: ninjed | November 21, 2008 10:57 AM

Unfortunately, transferring a game to hard drive doesn't seem to increase load speed... not true for Left 4 Dead, anyway.

Re avatars: some online games are coming out that will use these avatars. According to Game Informer these games were supposed to have been included with the update, but have been delayed for whatever reason(s).

Posted by: fuzzbass | November 25, 2008 11:05 AM

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