Xbox spokesman Major Nelson today announced the public availability of the new Xbox 360 Dashboard update. Some of us we lucky enough to be in the preview program and have had the chance to use the new features over the past couple of months.
The biggest feature by far is the addition of Internet Explorer which enables you for the first time, to browse the web via your Xbox. Of course competitors like PS3 and Wii have had browsers for years, late to the game IE is finally here.
It turns out the experience of browsing the web from your couch is pretty well done. While just like Windows 8’s Metro version of IE, there’s no plugins like Flash or Silverlight, but the future looking sites using HTML5 video will work. Navigation works by controlling the cursor with the left thumbstick and the page scrolling with the right. The left and right triggers control zoom and the experience is very smooth and easy, particularly compared to some other TV browsing experiences like Boxee Box. There’s also voice control, but strangely no Kinect gesture control.
Font sizes are rendered in a way that makes them easily read when viewing from a distance. The speed of the page loads is good, but there is one big downside that remains for browsing online. Many of the sites you’ll want to visit you’ll want a personalised experience, which means logging in. Despite associating your Microsoft account with social services like Twitter, Facebook or Flickr, you’ll still have to log in to each.
There’s no way around it, navigating to each letter of the on-screen keyboard is painful using any remote or controller. This means you’ll need a wireless keyboard nearby. While WebTV has been tried for years, a keyboard on the coffee table is still not accepted in most households.
Unfortunately there’s no multi-tasking here either, IE is a full-screen app (as with all Xbox apps). With more live streaming applications coming to the console, it would be great to see Microsoft bring the snapped view from Windows 8 to the TV so social streams (let’s face it, we’re talking twitter here) to the side of the screen. Microsoft’s Smart Glass is a big play for the second screen to intelligently talk to the on-screen content, but for those without, or those who prefer not to, it’d be great to have that big screen used for more than just full-screen apps.
There is plenty of other features included in this update to the dashboard which are listed below.
- Refreshed Xbox 360 Dashboard. We’ve updated the UI with a few things, including an updated layout with more tiles, a combined TV & Movies channel and, in the US, a Sports destination.
- Recommendations and Ratings. Recommendations will allow you to discover new favorites, generated based on a number of variables including the content you previously viewed, what your friends are consuming and what is most relevant and popular with our Xbox community. You can now rate content yourself and also see Rotten Tomatoes ratings.
- Pinning. Pinning lets you personalize the dashboard by saving your favorite movies, TV shows, games, music, videos and websites right to the home screen. It’s as easy as opening an app or a favorite movie and clicking “pin.”
- Xbox Video. Formerly called Zune Video Marketplace, Xbox Video offers hundreds of thousands of TV shows and movies for buying or renting in instant HD streaming.
- Recent. Previously called Quick Play, the Recent view gives you a list of movies, games, apps or other types of content that you most recently accessed on the console.
- Enhanced Search. The last Xbox LIVE update brought Bing voice search to Xbox so you could use voice to search for movies, TV shows, actors, directors and artists. This year we added genre search to the list, so now you can search for action, comedy, romance, drama or sci-fi. Bing voice search now includes results for video across the Web, including YouTube.
- International Expansion of Voice Search. We’ve expanded our Kinect voice search capabilities to 9 new countries – Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Ireland.
The update started rolling out today, so as with all big MS updates, it may take a few days to be available to all regions. Basically if you don’t see it yet, just wait longer, it is free after all.