Xbox 360 – November 17, 2009 Update Review

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Having had a few days to have a look at the new features on offer, time to review!

The highlighted features are the addition of Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and Zune video. They also seem to have added Skyplayer. Sounds good right?

Right?

Official Microsoft release data:

“Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and Zune video now available on Xbox LIVE
Unlock a world of friends, entertainment and games from the comfort of your couch, displayed on the best screen in the house, using Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE. Starting on November 17, Xbox LIVE members  around the world will have their Xbox 360 consoles transformed and plugged into the best value in home entertainment with access to Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Last.fm and Zune video with instant on HD, all right in your living room.
  • Facebook*– Update your status to share what movie, game or entertainment you’re enjoying, connect with friends and view their Facebook stream, status updates and photos on the big screen – all seamlessly integrated and custom-built for Xbox 360. You can even compare your Xbox LIVE and Facebook friends lists to see which of your friends are on LIVE.
  • Zune – Zune video on Xbox LIVE offers a full fidelity experience with instant on HD in 1080p and 5.1 channel surround sound. No waiting for downloads or buffering, it’s there at the press of a button. You can also share the experience with up to seven friends through voice chat and Avatar integration on the TV screen – it puts a whole new spin on “movie night.”
  • Twitter*– Stay in the know by discovering, posting and replying to Tweets right on your Xbox 360. You can even view friend profiles, trends and conversations, or search to see who’s tweeting about your favorite game.
  • Last.fm* – Discover more music and explore endless personalized radio stations with Last.fm on Xbox 360. Skip, “ban” or “love” tracks to create your perfect mix—we’ve even built in “Gamer Stations” with game-related types of music selected specifically for the gaming community(Available in the U.S. and UK)”
* Xbox LIVE Gold adult account required to access these features.

Well I have had a few days to test out these features and I’m ready to give some sort of review of them!

Firstly, as usual the Xbox system updates, though usually forced, proceed smoothly and with no problems. Update was quick, and I saw instantly in the “inside Xbox” group a video of the new features. Don’t watch it. It tells you nothing!

I will take them in order, Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, Skyplayer and Zune Video. However, to start, a few comments on all in general. Firstly, don’t bother unless you have GOLD. Secondly, don’t bother unless your gamer profile says you are 18 or over, yeah, Microsoft will not even SHOW these new features on your menus unless you are over 18. Thirdly, particularly for Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm, why can the launcher for these not reside also in my “My Games” tab, especially considering on first launch they are DOWNLOADED!

My main criticism of all of facebook, twitter and last.fm is that they are not nearly integrated enough for my liking. I expected seamlesness, like the Xbox’s MSN client. So I get messaged on facebook or twitter and it pops up. Selected people’s tweets or facebook status changes popup. Ability to stay logged into facebook chat. Last.fm to show up for a few seconds when I play a song, with details and album art maybe. Simple stuff. But the apps are all to discrete for me. Damn.

Facebook

Facebook on Xbox

Facebook on Xbox

This is probably the app that most people will be looking forward to. It doesn’t disappoint too much. Remember that the Xbox controller is not really optimised for proper web surfing, and you will see why it uses the Xbox style of interface. Everything is logically laid out, in proper categories, and it all works… but I can’t help feeling something is missing. It doesn’t FEEL the same when I use it. I don’t have the little bottom-bar with chat and my notifications, I can’t see the fullness of people’s profiles, I can’t make use of lots of the pointless apps and games.

I can message people, look at photos, change my status, write on walls, add friends. It feels basic, even though there isn’t much more to facebook in reality. I also feel the big, chunky letters and cartoony style of the Xbox interface and avatars clashes terribly with what most people think facebook should be.

Whilst well laid out as I said, its much slower to navigate. You are flicking through categories, and typing is a real pain, even with the messenger pad which I have.

Pros:

  • Nice to have it there
  • Excellent friend linker to find which of your facebook friends could also be Xbox friends
  • Reasonably well laid out (as best it can be I guess)
  • Large screen photo viewing
  • Potential for games to update achievements and statuses with your facebook profile

Cons:

  • Typing is a pain
  • Many features not possible to implement as of yet
  • Much less able to see the relevant information all in the same few screens
  • Over 18 only, seriously, I know facebook tends to be older people but that is changing, bebo and myspace are dying as near I can tell and facebook is taking over their share – and there are a lot of young gamers on Xbox. Microsoft don’t block under 18’s from playing 18+ games, yet they will block facebook???
  • Style of Xbox interface doesn’t marry well with facebook imo

Verdict: Nice try Microsoft, but something just isn’t quite right. Most people will try it out a few times just to see it, but then slink back to their computer screens to actually make proper use of facebook again.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Twitter

Twitter on Xbox

Twitter on Xbox

Twitter has really come on in popularity, hasn’t it? So many people use it, and it’s so simple. Question is, does it work on Xbox?

Short answer, yes, or at least much better than facebook does. But this is not unexpected, Twitter isn’t about all the apps and photos and friends and farmville and blah blah blah. It’s about a few lines of comment on something. Maybe a link to a photo or webpage. A direct message or two.

The Xbox handles twitter very well, on the whole. Unlike with facebook, the Xbox interface ant the twitter style match well, and the simple full screen interface with a few buttons to lead to different functions is much easier in this case. I can see all the tweets from my friends and they are distributed nicely around the screen, and I can post new tweets myself. I can DM, mention and such, and manage my following / followers.

Of course, the one area it is let down is that it cannot follow any links. So no pictures or webpages for you. Seriously, isn’t it time we get a web browser on Xbox? Then a lot of this could be done away with.

My one main criticism is this. Who would tweet FROM their Xbox? Twitter is an app borne from mobility, it was geared to mobile phones from the beginning. OK, this app is great for seeing other people’s tweets, but I will never use it to tweet myself. What would I tweet, “Just turned on my Xbox lolzzzz”??? I mean fair enough, it might be used to tweet stuff from games, like “I just got the Lazy Ass Gamer award in LazyGame” etc. Or even if you could call up the tweet interface from in-game. But you can’t as it launches as its own app, from the dashboard. Facepalm.

Pros:

  • Everything works as it should barring external links
  • Easy interface
  • Pretty

Cons:

  • Can’t follow links
  • Don’t imagine many posting from Xbox itself, merely to check other people’s tweets

Verdict: Works well and is nice, but again I don’t see people using it long-term. I’ll stick to my phone and pc for twitter.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Last.fm

Last.fm on Xbox

Last.fm on Xbox

Last.fm is a music finding service. It links with your music players and ‘scrobbles’ what you listen to, building a catelogue of your muci and your taste, and suggesting other music you might like as a result. It’s quite good, I use it on my ipod. It’s other growing function is as a free music player, where it builds ‘radios’ of similar artists, or even just full tracks from artists. I don’t use this that much, but I can see right away that this is what would be the best feature of it on Xbox.

There are times when you would like to play music through your Xbox, such as at a party perhaps. It’s a pain to have to connect your ipod or other USB music stick, or even to link it networkly to your PC. The music browsing menus for these are horrendous and slow to navigate.

Does last.fm do better? Well yes it does. It uses the Xbox navigation menus, but this works a lot better than facebook does. Things are divided up well and the ability to play the free tracks and radios works well. There isn’t a lot more to say really, it all works pretty darn reasonably. I haven’t yet checked if it scrobbles tracks I play through my Xbox or not, but tis isn’t really that important.

It’s monumentally glaring failure is once more in its discreet nature. It just won’t integrate properly with other Xbox activities. You can’t seem to, say, put on a last.fm station and then go play a game while continuing to listen, as you have to quit last.fm to do so. This eliminates most of the point of having it there in the first place. D’oh!

Pros:

  • Free music
  • Good interface

Cons:

  • Poor integration to other activities

Verdict: I really like last.fm for finding new artists I would like. I never did use it for playing much free music, but I can see how this could work well on Xbox. Unfortunately the lack of integration lets it down in this respect, leaving it with a niche set of possible applications.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Skyplayer

Skyplayer is the ability to use your Xbox to stream SkyTV channels to your Xbox over the internet. It seems quite fleshed out, with lots of channels and the streaming and quality don’t seem to be a problem, from the sample channel that is. You can have access to on-demand sport and movies using it.

However, there is one big problem with it for me. Firstly, you have to be signed up for Sky in the first place, or at least take out a subscription. Now… assuming I either HAVE or GET a Sky subscription, why would I bother using my Xbox? I would use the Sky box plugged into the TV, so that I have no risk of internet lag, or poor quality. Maybe for houses with multiple TVs it will be useful, where one can watch the real Sky box and the other use the Xbox, but it doesn’t even have all the channels available.

Sky have missed a trick here for me. They should have concentrated on the pay-per-view element. I would really have got on-board with, say, being able to pay a one-off to watch the Champions League game on my Xbox. I don’t have Sky or Virgin Media TV, so this way I could still watch the match. However, I would need to take out a subscription for Sky? The same COULD HAVE been done for movies and even channels or shows. Nope. Subscription service. Dumb move, Sky. Dumb move.

Pros:

  • Seems bug free
  • Integrated nicely with the Xbox interface
  • Quality and connection seem good
  • Movies and sport channels are available

Cons:

  • Subscription required
  • No pay-per-view ability
  • Subscription required
  • Subscription required
  • Subscription required (need I say more?)

Verdict: A missed opportunity for Sky imo. They could have turned a tidy extra profit from people watching sports events or movies as pay-per-view without needing subscriptions. Instead, they want you to pay a minimum of £14.99 a month for some crappy Documentary and Kids program channels. Shame.

Rating: 2 out of 10 (had subscription not been required I would have given this at least 7)

Zune Video

Just a renaming of the previous movies on demand service from Microsoft. They are clearly gearing to try to boost sales of their portable media player.

Zune video is a video marketplace. You can download movies and watch them either on your Xbox, or upload them to your Zune to watch on the move.

I don’t have a Zune and have never downloaded a movie from the Xbox store (they all seem to be crappy B-movies) so I can’t really give much of a review on this one.

They do have some bizarre party mode where your friends can all buy the same movie as you and you can zoom out the screen of the movie so that it looks like you and your avatars are watching it on a cinema screen, and you can make your avatars move and talk. WHO WOULD DO THIS?!?!? One; everyone buying the movie EACH means like 4 or so times the cost. Two; can’t your friends come over to your house and watch it like normal people? three; watch the movie in smaller view, and worse, all so that my friends can chatter on-screen and move about during the film? I can’t think of anything more distracting! WTF are you thinking Microsoft? I wonder who has actually DONE this?

Pros:

  • Uh, movies?
  • Zune integration
  • Reasonable prices and no-wait, the movie will allow you to stream as it downloads

Cons:

  • Party mode is absolute nonsense
  • Crap movie selection

Verdict: Perfectably acceptable movie marketplace. Some useless features added, like party mode. But all in all, grand. I’m sure the added Zune integration will please those with a Zune.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Conclusion

So, to sum up, I’m not too impressed really with this update, despite inital excitement. It did nto live up to my expectation. The best feature is the Microsoft Movie marketplace, which was always there so it’s not even new. The others are novelties, and while it adds to the overall prestige of Xbox, it doesn’t really add much useful function.

Peace out!

Posted by gyaku_zuki   @   26 November 2009

 

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