On December 6/7th, Microsoft updated the dashboard for its Xbox 360 console. This isn’t major news in itself; such updates happen fairly regularly. However, this latest update was much more substantial than usual - arguably the most substantial one we’ve seen to date, in fact.
After all, as well as radically revamping the look of the dashboard, the latest update seems to have shifted the Xbox 360 from being predominantly a games console into much more of an all-round multimedia server.
Whether you consider this move long overdue or a distracting waste of time probably depends on how much you’re into multimedia file playback generally, and whether you’ve got a separate device for playing back your multimedia goodies.
In terms of the Xbox 360’s competitiveness with its arch PS3 rival, though, the new dashboard’s more ‘diverse’ and video-centric approach looks like the console’s first serious bid yet to challenge the PS3’s traditional multimedia strengths. Add to this the fact that Microsoft has added a selection of key new video providers over recent months and weeks, and it’s clear that the latest update warrants a full re-evaluation of the Xbox 360 console as a potential home cinema as well as gaming device.
It’s immediately clear that the new interface is a much more visual affair, with more graphics and less text. Despite this, it’s also surprisingly economical in the sense that it provides direct icon links to more content than was the case previously. In fact, it makes you realise just how much onscreen real estate the previous Dash wasted.
We still feel that Microsoft could have spread things out even further to provide still more direct links. But maybe they were worried this could have started to make things look overwhelming.
Adding more direct links to the screen would also, of course, mean that each item shown would have relatively less visual ‘weight’. Which brings us to a rather less happy aspect of the new dashboard design: the way it tries to tell you what to watch.
The majority of the icons on show are all about linking you straight to ‘highlighted’ or directly sponsored content, and so while you can understand Microsoft wanting to showcase its headline wares, the system certainly feels more ‘dictatorial’ than the old one. What’s more, in taking this approach you can’t help but think Microsoft has made it more likely that smaller films and games will ‘slip through the cracks’ as they’re less likely to receive any up-front promotion.
The ‘sponsored’ links we mentioned are labelled Advertisement, so at least there’s a degree of honesty about what’s what. But ads appear on almost every ‘page’ of the new dashboard, and their prevalence does feel a bit dirty. Especially given that Xbox Live is a subscription-based service rather than being free like the PSN. In other words, it feels like adding adverts to the BBC!