New Xbox dash with Kinect and Bing goes live tomorrow
Metro interface, Facebook intergration, cloud saves and new parental controls rolled out for Xbox Live
Tomorrow Microsoft launches a massive overhaul of its Xbox 360 dashboard, offering users the new Metro display, gesture and voice controls via Kinect, and Bing searches.
The new update is focused on the content users are consuming - music, video, games, and social networking - putting it in one place for ease of access.
"The content that you want, and then you consume it the way you want to, from whichever provider," offered Pawan Bhardwaj, UK product manager for Xbox Live, speaking to GamesIndustry.biz at a recent press event in London.
The interface is clean and will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has used a Windows phone recently, with the distinctive Metro tiled display. This design will also appear in the new Windows 8, demonstrating efforts on the part of Microsoft to tie together its range of products into one, instantly recognisable family of screens.
The control system has also been overhauled, allowing for use of a controller, or for those with Kinect, gestures and voice control. Bhardwaj showed off the new search, calling up related films, games and music on the screen, and, he promised, these won't be sponsored results, but natural searches.
"What there will be is advertising in the search results, so maybe the fourth or fifth one down would be an advert for something, hopefully, relatively related to the content you've searched for. Or it could just be this film is showing at the cinema, so if it's a sci-fi film and you've looked for sci-fi content it may tag it that way."
"We wouldn't move people's content, because it doesn't give the consumer a lot of confidence," he added.
Bhardwaj was also keen to show off the apps, custom built with partners like YouTube, Zune and Sky to add their content to the interface, while maintaining a consistency of look and feel. Microsoft is currently working with the BBC on a bespoke iPlayer app, for example.
"All the applications are built in that same way, which is really really nice," he pointed out.
"It's really important. One of the examples I have personally have, on my phone the applications that I download, every single one of them is different, they all work slightly differently, and it gets a bit annoying. The great thing about the Xbox is it's so similar on every single screen and every single application that it becomes really quick and easy to pick up."
Microsoft is clearly keen to maintain control over its own app marketplace, working with developers to make sure quality stays high, and said Bhardwaj, they maintain consistency with the Metro look and feel. So don't expect Angry Birds knock offs and farting reindeer any time soon.
"It's about quality and you as a consumer, what do you want to consume?"
Despite clear attempts to make the console more of an entertainment centre than a games machine, there are three new features specifically for gamers, in the form of Beacons, cloud saves and Facebook integration.
The Facebook integration allows users to post scores and times to the social networking site, whereas the Beacon is designed for multiplayer fans. The Beacon can be set to let friends know, on both XBox Live and Facebook, what you're playing and that you want company.
Another big change that Bhardwaj showed off was cloud saves, which allows games to be played continuously across different machines. Users can just upload a save to a cloud, and then log in to a friend's machine and access their save from there.
Another significant change is parental controls, which will alert parents if an unauthorised user tries to access adult content on the machine. It's a sign that Microsoft wants to be seen as a family machine, and not just a core gamer's console.
"What is really does is breathe new life into your TV and your entertainment experience, you don't have multiple devices, there's so much on here. And it's not just about the applications we're going to be launching, it's an ongoing process, so throughout 2012 we'll have more apps, so it's constant evolution."
The update will be available to Xbox 360 users via an internet download from tomorrow.