The real change to the dashboard, is not in its looks, but in the greatly expanded voice and motion control. Pulled way beyond the “Kinect Hub” on the current interface, users can use their hands and voices to navigate through the vast majority of Xbox menus. This expansion, combined with the console’s new Bing integration, has made searching for content on Xbox Live far more intuitive.
Users interested in taking in a flick with a particular actor can now search for that actor by simply telling their Kinect, “Bing Christian Bale” or “Bing Robert DeNiro.” Instead of having to search for something in each of the services on the platform, users will be able to see all mentions of that keyword in all content across all Xbox Live services. So a search for Christian Bale could theoretically bring up everything from “Batman Begins” on-demand to the soundtrack from “Newsies” from across several different services. Users can, of course, also type in their Bing searches through a controller-based menu.
The update itself is free, but could be a bit pricey in the long run, given that many of the services require Xbox Gold, a $60 per year cost, and many of the apps their own subscriptions such as Hulu Plus or Netflix. Verizon Fios and Comcast Xfinity will eventually join as Xbox content partners, meaning that subscribers to those services will be able to see live content from channels such as Comedy Central on the Xbox. The same will be true for HBO’s HBO Go app.
But there are some free options too, such as a slick YouTube app that hooks in with users’ Google accounts to see subscribed and shared videos through the console.
There are also quite a few gaming upgrades that the Xbox’s core audience will appreciate. One is the ability to set beacons, which will let you tell your friends what games you want to play together through Xbox Live and Facebook. Gamers will also be able to officially brag about their achievements on Facebook, as Microsoft tries to tap into the social aspect of gaming. It has also introduced a cloud-saving feature that’s made it easier for gamers to switch profiles and access their games from anywhere with an Internet connection without having to tote their USB drives to friends’ houses.
Adding cloud saves takes away one of the few features that PlayStation Plus had over Xbox Live. Luckily for Sony, Microsoft still hasn’t added a browser to its services, though the YouTube app can probably fill a chunk of the functionality gamers might want from a browser.
The new layout will go live for all users on Dec. 6. ESPN, Hulu Plus, Netflix , MSNBC Today and EPIX will all launch with the service, with several other partners set to go live later this month and early next year.
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