A major upgrade for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console went live yesterday, dubbed the “New Xbox Experience (NXE).” When gamers turn on their 360s today, they’ll be told there’s an update, which takes just a few minutes. There’s plenty in store for them after the update.
As soon as the console restarts after the update, it prompts users to create their Avatar. Users of the Nintendo Wii will find this rather familiar. The Avatar creation process, and its result, is very similar to creating a Mii on Nintendo’s console, just with far fewer choices. Avatars are small height, big-headed characters, what fans of Manga and Anime would call “chibi” with customizable faces, hair, height, weight, with simple choose-and-create tools. After creating this virtual representation, the new user interface launches.
The Welcome channel will guide new users through the menu system, offering simple guides on how it all works, and teasing some of the new features. To move from channel to channel, a simple up or down gets users there instead of the left and right of the pane system previously used. Other than these basic cosmetic changes, and the Avatars, there is one big new treat: The ability to stream video from a user’s unlimited Netflix account directly to their Xbox 360.
Upon first launch of the Netflix application, it prompts you to either use an existing account or begin a free trial. For existing account holders, a code is given to be put in on the computer and activate your console. The process is quick and simple. From there, your “Instant Queue” will immediately show up on your TV screen. There have been third party applications to allow similar functionality, but they have been limited, allowing only the first 10 or so titles on your list to show up. Such is not the case here, as your full “Instant Queue” is available to choose from (with a notable exception). You still have to choose what to add to the Queue via a computer, but the update from computer to Xbox is nearly instantaneous. One amazing unpublicized feature is the resume playback function. You can begin watching on the computer, and pick up where you left off on the Xbox 360. If you have an HDTV and a fast Internet connection, HD streaming is available from Netflix for the first time here. Also, while you can’t add titles via the Xbox interface, you can remove them when you’re finished. The playback quality is fantastic, with easy fast forward and rewind, and easy to control via the standard Xbox 360 controller.
That notable exception is a big one, and an unfortunate cost of the console being made by Microsoft. Sony Pictures and their subsidiaries are currently unavailable for streaming to the 360. If you have them in your “Instant Queue” online, you can still watch them via the computer and dedicated set-top boxes, but they won’t show up on the Xbox’s interface. The obvious reason seems to be that Sony has their own console that they’re trying to position as a media hub for the household in the PlayStation 3. Netflix is actively trying to get these few hundred titles licensed for use on the Xbox 360, and hopes progress to be swift.
Regardless of the limitation, the addition of official Netflix streaming appears to be the proverbial game changer. With the recent price reduction across the line, along with aggressive bundles being released by retailers across the country, Microsoft has positioned themselves for a run in the console wars. Whether this will propel them to victory in the long run, this holiday season, the gifts came early for Xbox 360 users, especially those who are also fans of Netflix.