Microsoft wants the Xbox 360 to be the center of your home entertainment universe. Maybe that's understating it a bit. They want the 360 to be your only device: a one-stop-shop for all of your digital entertainment needs. Over the past few years, we've seen them start to dabble in entertainment offerings including Netflix and Zune Marketplace, but the new Dashboard update coming December 6th marks the true beginning of their march to living room domination.
The 360's install base is already an impressive figure. On Black Friday alone, retailers moved 960,000 units, so Microsoft's move to leverage those users makes business sense, but it also means a windfall for Xbox LIVE subscribers. On average, LIVE users spend 2 hours a day on their consoles, with 40% of them spending 30 hours a more per week watching television and movies. The push to make the Xbox your only home for the cornucopia of digital content available means implementing a ton of new, user-friendly features.
Microsoft's goal with the latest Dashboard update is to improve the experience, by not only offering you access to everything you want to see in one place, but by making it an easy, social, and personal experience. Adopting the "Metro Design" from Windows Mobile phones, the new Dashboard looks lean and mean. Content is divided up into hubs (Music, Movies, TV, Games, etc.), making it easy to quickly access what you want to explore. Everything was sort of pieced together before has now been seamless integrated into the new design, the most notable example of which is the demise of the Kinect Hub. It's gone. Instead, Kinect is now incorporated from the ground up, and you can navigate all areas of the dashboard with voice commands. Just like in the now-defunct Kinect Hub, you start by saying "Xbox" followed by anything you see on the screen.
While the voice commands are neat and easy to use, many of the other features will be much more appealing to gamers. First of all, new roaming profiles means an end to recovering your gamertag. No long will you know the joy of trudging through 150 steps just to play something at a friend's house. Everything, including your gamertag and game saves, are now uploaded the cloud, making it easy for you to access them for any Xbox.
The newly incorporated Bing search function allows you to search not only your own hard drive, but the entire Xbox Marketplace and all of the 3rd-party Apps. Games, movies, music, and TV are now accessible with a few words, and each search result will show you all of your available options for consuming that piece of content. For instance, if you want to watch Iron Man, Bing will show you that it's available on Netflix streaming and for download from the Marketplace. You can pick the option that's right for you, and no more having to open specific apps in order to find what you want.
Along with the improved search, a host of new content will be available with the update including live TV apps for Verizon FIOS and Comcast customers. Everyone else will just have to wait, because while Microsoft wants to be the hub for all of your entertainment needs, they don't appear to be interested in getting into the cable biz. The burden falls on providers to create apps for their customers, so only time will tell if more companies hop on the bandwagon.
Another new partner is UFC. The company has created an app that allows fighting fans to order pay-per-view events through their Xboxes, along with gainging access to UFC.com and exclusive content. Fans can watch work-outs, weigh-ins, and press conferences, as well as accessing a wealth of stats and invite their friends to pick the winner on Facebook.
Speaking of Facebook, the social integration has also been kicked up a notch. Now you can link your Facebook profile to your gamertag and post achievements for all of your friends to see on the social networking site. You can also send out Beacons, which will let your Facebook friends know you're looking for some virtual action.
Unfortunately, most of what's talked about above is only available to Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers. Free users will be able to buy video on demand offerings and, in Europe, will have access to live programming provided by public broadcasters. Looks like now, more than ever, is a good time to go Gold if you haven't already.
The new update looks like a promising first step in Microsoft's plan to make the Xbox 360 the preferred entertainment destination for gamers and non-gamers alike. Pour a little out for account recovery (yeah, right), and rejoice, because a host of new features are headed to your console. The new Xbox Dashboard launches December 6th.