The New Xbox Experience is live and has been on general release since 10am GMT yesterday when it began to roll out to Xbox 360 consoles worldwide.

Using the interface for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. The added 3rd dimension to the layout means the plain evenness, that the original dashboard had, is broken up.

After the update is installed you can customise your avatar. Whilst doing this, you can control the expression on the avatar’s face as well as being able to make him/her spin and get dizzy (try this one to extreme for an even funnier outcome!). After customising your avatar

you can take a picture of it and set it as your gamerpic.

The party feature works well allowing up to eight people chat regardless of the game or activity they are doing. Another party feature is Photoparty, however, ease of access to this feature doesn’t seem to be a priority. At present, the Photoparty component has to be downloaded (20MB approx). Once downloaded where can one activate it from? Well at the moment there is a tile for Photoparty under the Spotlight menu, but this section seems like an area where features and games are advertised, rather than long-term fixed menus. So unless Photoparty is going to stay in the Spotlight section forever, it will need a more intuitive menu position as I was ignoring this area when initially looking for Photoparty (why would it be in such a place?). A better place to move the link would be to Picture Library or the Party menus within the Guide (which is where I first started looking).

To download Photoparty you can go to the Spotlight menu and go into the Photoparty tile. If you don’t already have it installed, you will be asked if you want to download it. Once downloaded you can go to Play Now. When you want to start a Photoparty session at another time, just go back to the Spotlight menu to open up the Photoparty download screen, as you already have it just go to Play Now.

Games can be installed to the hard drive and to facilitate this is you are a frequent installer is the ability to change the start up behaviour when you insert a game disc. Previously, when putting a game in the drive tray and closing it, the game would start up. Now you can choose to stop this autoplay, leaving you to choose to install or start the game for the menus. Another start up option offered is to start the Xbox 360 in Media Center, handy if using the console as a media extender.

With the 3D avatar comes the 3D appearance of the friends list and other menus. As with the old dashboard, themes are still a feature and four of them come with the NXE update: Xbox 360; Day; Night and Spectrum. Give them a go and check out change in the Friends List when using the Night theme. When friends are in a party with you, you will see their avatars on the friends list in a group standing around you, sometimes they will do Mexican waves and other expressions. Other friends playing the same games will show up in a group standing next to each other also. Offline friends are represented by a snoozing avatar.

To make use of the avatars, games will be available and updates available for some that are already out eg: Uno. One game that makes use of avatars is A Kingdom for Keflings, a trial is available so check this out but you’ll have to go via the Marketplace rather than the link on the Inside Xbox menu which prompts you to buy the game only.

One feature I’ve seen a few people asking for in the past is the ability to remove games with 0 gamerpoints and demos. This wish has been granted.

I have a gripe or two with the new interface regarding the new layout and the excessive sub-menus. Lets take themes as this is the most obvious one. Now, a little while ago, I was looking to see what free themes were available for the new dashboard so looking at the top level of the dashboard menu we have the options:

Inside Xbox
Video Marketplace
Game Marketplace
My Xbox

Out of these options which would you go into for a theme? Nothing seems obvious, there is a Game Marketplace and a Video Marketplace, there is some differentiation so may be a theme/gamerpic marketplace would be logical, especially as not all themes and gamerpics are game based, but it isn’t there.

The next logical place to check might be to check the Game Marketplace anyway even if it isn’t glaringly obvious. Maybe a rename to Live Marketplace or just Marketplace would be more appropriate.

Within Game Marketplace we have the Themes & Gamer Pictures section, lets go into that. Here we have four sub-sections:

New Arrivals
All Themes & Gamer Pictures
Gamer Pictures
Premium Themes

So where would the free themes go? If one wanted a free theme they would have to trawl through the All Themes & Gamer Pictures section which is broken down into even more sub-sections game-by-game!

Another unfortunate thing besides the Photoparty and themes accessibility is the delay of the Primtime feature. Players would have been able to take part in gameshow style events one of theme being 100 to 1. I read a rumour that this will be released in the new year as it didn’t make the NXE launch.

Unfortunately, being in the UK, I don’t have access to Netflix, only a second rate streaming service from a BT Vision box. The experience in this case would probably be the same as using the Media Centre feature with a PC where the Xbox would be a media extender.

Overall it brings a much needed refresh to the old Xbox 360 dashboard but not one that is without its quirks and shortcomings, not least having a 3D friends list means seeing less friends’ names on the screen at one time. The problems are cancelled out by the addition of new features and improved accessibility in some areas. Once feedback is received on problems and things that could be made better (any idea where feedback can be left), I’m sure that changes will be made in a future update. Read up more about the NXE update at the following links:

NXE install –
Avatars –
Netflix and NXE –
NXE HDD vs DVD load times –

By Viran

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