30th October 2009 - Last weekend Microsoft began rolling out updates for the new XBOX Live beta programs for those lucky enough to pass the sign up. From last Friday to Tuesday participants received the update which patched the firmware adding a new interface and access to additional content. With the added features of Facebook, Twitter, Zune movies and ‘last.fm’ each application requires an additional download and patch.
Although reports of slower than usual load times across Live, issues with logins and the addition that the update will drop at any given time, even during the middle of a game; requiring a restart, is frustrating- an official announcement from Microsoft stated:
“We have already begun the process of rolling out the updates to your console. If you do not receive it right away, don’t worry, you will get it soon. If you do not receive the update by Tuesday, let us know. In the meantime, please do not submit feedback about not yet receiving the update.”
This hasn’t stopped people sounding off for and against it in the forums with their own XBOX apparently: ‘detecting a problem with the console ID we sent them’. Despite this AAG has spent some time digging deep into the new download and we present in no particular order:
Otherwise known as Facebook ‘light’. It should be noted all applications are for Gold members only and even those that applied with an XBOX Live account with a registered age under 18, are receiving the update but are unable to even use said programs due to child restrictions.
Facebook essentially weighs in at around 4mb and once loaded replaces the current community blades of the XBOX dashboard.
It is nice to see the avatar floating around the front, but again no one can see you while you’re using it and although it will be reflected online that you’re logged in from the XBOX your Avatar doesn’t currently appear on your Facebook page.
Currently Facebook has been reduced to an RSS feed of friends updates and pictures. You can comment on feeds and even “like” topics but cannot send messages or post on walls. Status updates can be applied but might as well be a ‘tweet’ for all the good it does. Also for all the fuss over viewing your friend’s profiles, there is something a whole less personal about displaying private and/or personal images on your 50” plasma. Some things just shouldn’t be seen.
The best feature would seem to be the first panel which constantly scrolls though status updates from the Facebook Homes page without you having to go into anything.
Everything else is a chore of opening up panel after panel to see what you need. It’s neat to see friends displayed horizontally across, but nothing you haven’t seen before. There is something to be said for having a computer screen show you all the information at once down a page, allowing a quick scan of details.
Like MSN before it, contacting your friends from the couch has never been easier.
The Twitter application is a good addition, but probably not one you will use that often. It allows you to log into your Twitter account and view the latest 50 tweets of people that you are following. You can also view the profile of a person you are following. Yes you can put up tweets from your Xbox, but do you really want to tell everyone who is following you on Twitter that you are having a game of ……?
As inspired as these ideas are, the concept of following someone, now from the comfort of your lounge room, ‘anonymously’ from the relative obscurity of XBOX Live, sounds even worse that looking at their photos.
That said, like Facebook this service will not allow you to search or find new contacts and most likely limits to the current follows linked to your account.
Although slightly off topic, I thought I’d mention this purely because it was interesting to see if MS had continued what it planned to with the further integration of Windows Live and the XBOX 360. Given the initial update which allowed more or less full function of Messenger and all contacts discreetly hidden in the profile panel of LIVE, the result is; nothing.
The feature has neither been updated nor removed, although now you can view your friend’s pictures, profiles and tweets before actually talking to them on MSN. It is conceivable this may in the future receive an update, but it begs the question; Am I the only one wondering what’s happening with this service. A shiny new interface wouldn’t go astray and would almost renege the need to download Facebook at all.
Now at least in Australia, Zune video is also the portal to limited music access and only for a select number of games. But it represents potentially and literally the biggest update for the MS console yet. It also points to MS outsourcing chunks of its own firmware to other companies in the future:
“The Events page, proudly bought to you by Pepsi!” -In all serious though, video, not to mention music has been patchy at best on the XBOX. Some regular programs keep coming back but apart from a constant stream of previews, there is scant little else.
At least in Australia, the ‘music video’ and ‘independent videos’ section have always been bare. This requires people and websites giving more control over their content, but Microsoft’s answer of buying everyone out is running a little thin.
All the videos you know are now inside the Zune app, located in a web and game videos window. This is after loading Zune and accepting their content agreement privacy form and then navigating the number of new release films. The Zune logo also pops up all over the regular dashboard replacing anything that used to be connected to video.
It is hard to judge, just how well this new initiative will take off in Australia. Our country seems to have a pretty firm backbone when it comes to accepting new ideas, or at least old ideas from another country.
TiVo just isn’t going to be as big as it is the US not to mention the lackluster sales of the PSP GO. Australia having one of the worst internet service connection in the Western world? Is streaming video really what we need.
Reports earlier this week indicate that a Blu-ray device may be imminent for the XBOX, so at least the choice may be there. The current choice of videos don’t offer anything terribly new and for overseas and the US, digital distribution of video to console has been around for a long time already.
Definitely a step in the right direction though, with integrated party options; but even for a weekly or monthly rental, a lot of people are going to need to increase their hard drives which again leads to further issues with restoring profiles, saved games and downloads. The integration of Zune is a necessary step but smells of Microsoft playing catch-ups in the wake of Sony’s Playstation 3.
Not surprisingly, Australia is last to receive, last.fm. This may have as much to do with licensing and broadcast rights overseas as it does with Microsoft including it in the preview. Suffice to say, information is scarce on why it was omitted from the preview and only time will tell if it will or needs to be included.
A dedicated radio station sounds good, but then has the added problem of not being able to be played whilst in a game. Australians will have to stick with Zune for now, accessing ‘exclusive’ music for LIPS and other music genre games.
The loss of last.fm has hit the community harder than any video release of the Eddie Murphy movie ‘The Golden Child’ so hopefully a workaround is on the cards. Given that it costs money to use this service usually, perhaps MS can use their Microsoft points to play music now too?
Lastly is the news ‘and more’ feature section. This is potentially the most useful of the updates as it should in theory keep people updated more about what MS is up to without having to visit the site. At the moment there is not much to see but a revamped info on the updates and some new technical help for using the marketplace. Australians once again get this as an answer: Note: Available in the U.S. only.
At least two of the channels listed are cartoons and I can think nothing better than a consistent updated cartoon I can read across the blades on my dashboard; sorry Australia.
Oh, and last.fms’ response to why it’s not available in Australia:
“If live in the US and UK, but Last.fm isn’t visible on your Xbox 360, make sure you are connected to Xbox LIVE and using an Xbox LIVE account that was created for one of those regions.”
“Last.fm is available to users who have an Xbox Live account from the United States or the United Kingdom and also live in those regions. “
Good job on thinking about the rest of us. The worst part is that even our updates for our own country include redundant sections and menus which may never properly be filled. Facebook and Twitter are well integrated and come November, everyone will be connected like never before. Microsoft is surely building a solid foundation to carry over to another generation of hardware, this time with an established infrastructure of content which is only going to get bigger and better.
Article Written By Ian Crane