Xbox 360 Dashboard – Spring 2006 Update

Tomorrow, the first major update of the Xbox 360 Dashboard will be released over Xbox Live. Less than two weeks ago, a few sites and blogs (like TeamXbox, Gaming Age, Joystiq and Kotaku to name a few) were able to get to chat briefly with the Group Marketing Manager for Xbox Live, Aaron Greenberg and/or Jerry Johnson, Xbox Live Group Product Manager. Major Nelson also had a chance to record a podcast with Aaron as his guest to go over a lot of the new features from the Spring Update, amongst other things. Major Nelson then took some time and went over to on10.net to give Tina an overview of some of the major features in under ten minutes. In addition, GameVideos.com has posted a video walk-through of the update as well — it’s well worth the watch even at the twenty minute runtime.

Most of these interviews covered some of the most important new features in the Dashboard Update. The biggest is easily the implementation of the “download manager,” which allows you to queue up to six pieces of Marketplace content for download in the background while you continue to do other things. It even pauses the download anytime a bandwidth intensive task comes up, like launching a multi-player session. This feature is something I have seen everywhere on the message boards I work on. It’s probably pretty safe to assume this was one of the most requested features that the Xbox team received. Another major, and also oft-requested feature, is having an option to boot straight to the Dashboard instead of automatically loading the game disc that is in the console when you power on. The option to change this setting can be found in the System > Console Settings menu. This is really welcome, I think I personally want it to boot to the Dashboard the overwhelming majority of the time, as I’ll usually check, messages, friends and Marketplace before I decide what I want to do. I mean think about it, Xbox Live, Marketplace and the Dashboard are such compelling features that there is no small number of people out there who would prefer to start there than immediately jumping into a game. That’s incredible. I think the only thing I see regarding this subject is to provide a way to choose where you boot on startup, similar to how the GameCube has that option available by holding down the ‘A’ button during the power-up sequence.

There are some other important additions, such as the FF/RW option when viewing videos or the Vision camera, that are well covered by the other sites and videos linked above. However, one thing that is interesting to note is that this Dashboard update is the very first such update from Microsoft to have the release info fully documented and posted publicly on Xbox.com. I think there are a few smaller updates in the larger list that may interest people.

  • The memory units are now labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’ whereas before they were just listed in order of the way they were inserted into the system. Now it just makes a little bit more sense.
  • The development team has worked on improving the visual quality of the built-in DVD player — this is one of the great features of software DVD decoding, you can constantly make it better.
  • You can now play a video, demo or apply a theme directly after the download completes, instead of trying to play/apply it and then being taken to another screen that again gives you the option to play/apply.
  • They have made the scrolling through of large lists of music much faster, which is a welcome tweak.
  • They moved the entire categorization of Marketplace off of the Xbox and it’s now handled on the server side. Which means that the Xbox Live team can create new categories for Marketplace content on the fly and you won’t have to download another update.
  • If you let your Xbox 360 sit idle long enough for the screensaver to activate, your online status will go to “Away” which is great because now when I step away from the console for a while, people don’t think I’m ignoring their Uno game invites.
  • They have found a way to improve the download performance for the most requested pieces of Marketplace content too, so when something new and compelling gets released, hopefully they will download a bit faster.

Those are just some of the other things in the update I found interesting. I’m sure some of the more technically inclined people or people who have experienced something they are fixing, making more efficient or found the Dashboard was lacking a feature they were missing for will find a few other things in the whole list they will like.

I can’t wait to see what the next major Dashboard update, hopefully in the Fall/Winter sometime, will have in it.

EDIT: Elle from the Xbox team has a nice post about the update as well.

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