Being eternally a bit of a sucker for these things I signed up for the Xbox Dashboard preview. This gives you a taste of what changes are coming in the next month on the Xbox dash. On Friday I got an email telling me I was one of the lucky few (probably in the couple of million) that would be given access to the juicy new features before everybody else. The new features on show in this preview are; Facebook, Twitter, last.fm integration and the brand new Zune marketplace (this replaces the current video marketplace). It’s possibly at this stage that I got a little over excited about the prospect my Xbox becoming a fun social machine as opposed to the shoot bad guys in the face machine it usually is.
After booting the Xbox up I started with Facebook. You have to download the Facebook application (it’s pretty small under 10mb). The app is nice it uses the standard Xbox dash layout with main items down the left hand side and these open up with new options as you move to them. The thing that worked best in my opinion was looking at photos these appear very quickly, much faster than on the Facebook site, and can be played as a slideshow if you like. Another nice addition is you can look up which of your Facebook friends have Xbox live accounts in case you’ve been missing out on some multiplayer action with them. All the other standard features are supported so you can read messages update your status (although you’ll want a USB keyboard if you’re planning to do a lot of updating from your dash). What’s not supported are Facebook apps or games that you might have on Facebook.
I then had a quick look at Twitter, which wasn’t a separate application but runs directly from the dashboard. This does everything you’d expect you can post tweets read other peoples tweets. I don’t normally use Twitter so I haven’t tried any other applications for putting information up but again I think you’d get very bored of using the Xbox pad to key in the information. Although this isn’t a separate app like Facebook there are no options for setting up any auto tweeting, now this might come as a relief to those who have a lot of friends using twitter and imagine hundreds of tweets from their friends Xbox’s letting them know how far through the latest Call of Duty game they are.
Last.fm works very well, it connects up with your last.fm account if you have one or creates one for you, from their you can chose what you want to listen to. Either creating your own stations using tags or starting with an artist or listen to some of the preset stations that last.fm. This is all great the only problem with it is that it’s another application that you have to download and is separate from the whole dashboard meaning you can’t listen to last.fm on the dashboard or in game, on top of this you can’t use the funky visualisation that is built into the dash for when you play music. Without being able to get this into the dash and into games it seems like a fairly niche product that I certainly won’t be using very much.
The last update that I got to take a gander at was the new Zune marketplace. This is a replacement for the current video marketplace and offers 1080p instant streaming, if your connection to the internet is good enough. I was excited about this because I thought, mistakenly, that Microsoft would roll out a lot more content to go with the new Zune platform. In the states they get a lot more movies on the service and get access to TV shows all available on demand and I just wanted some of that action. Maybe they will put out some more content when all this goes live but I won’t hold my breath. The instant streaming works though, it starts you off after just a couple of seconds of buffering and then adjusts the resolution up and up until you get to 1080p. The quality is pretty good and you can fast forward through it in full screen whilst seeing the images on screen just like when you fast forward or rewind on a DVD player.
Overall I was left feeling a little flat from these updates, the applications themselves work well but because there is no proper integration with the 360 dash it seems like a missed opportunity. I’m not saying that I need to be able to pause a game and send a tweet to someone, or update my status on Facebook, but if I can’t then I think I’m going to do most of these types of activities on my PC and just not worry about doing it on the Xbox. This is most true on last.fm if it worked so you could have your tunes playing in game from the service brilliant but if not when am I going to turn my Xbox on and just listen to last.fm.