The New 360 Dashboard and What it Means for Us

The New 360 Dashboard and What it Means for Us

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 23rd Dec 2011

When you boot up your system under the new dashboard you the list of Gamer Tags that are currently installed on it are presented as a graphical menu of choices -- your Avatar stands sleeping next to their Gamer Tag information, and all that you need to do is select the one you want to log in with to see it spring to life!

The actual log in time seems to be a bit longer these days, but not so much that there is cause to complain -- and the selection helpfully indicates whether or not that gamer tag is using the Cloud Service or not.

The Home Screen is the default entry point for the new dashboard, and of course the folks at LIVE lost no time in using that to focus your attention on the items that they feel are important, from new apps to the current promotions -- which at the moment are holiday based. You get the option to play whatever game is currently slotted into your console, or select the Quickplay Menu to access any game that you have installed on your system (think Arcade) as well as the game that is slotted.

The rest of the main menus consist of Social (you and your mates), TV, Video, Games, Music, Apps, and Settings, all of which are pretty self-explanatory. Each main menu has a host of options you can select - for example the Apps Menu is divided neatly into the apps you already have installed, and the option to visit the Apps Marketplace to install some new ones, which suggests that Apps are going to be a focal point in the upcoming expansion to the service.

The Zune Marketplace still features dominantly in the music and video sections -- but that is to be expected since it is a Microsoft service -- while the extra and value-added features like the News and Tips videos are perhaps just a bit easier to find these days.

The access method that the new menus are built around assumes that you are using Kinect of course, but with the Guide Button Blade Menu System still present and the ability to navigate the main dashboard using the gamepad still available (though admittedly a rather clumsy experience) we find that it is all new and yet mostly the same.

The biggest change and new feature is the Bing Search System, which appears as the far-left option on the main dashboard and interestingly is not available at all on the simplified blade menus, and offers the ability to search not only online, but also the contents of your 360, which we have to admit is rather cool.

In the video embedded above Xbox Personality and Gamer Lawrence "Larry" Hryb -- more commonly known by his Gamer Tag 'Nym of Major Nelson -- shares with us the new Beacon System in the 2011 Xbox 360 Dashboard Update.

Officially the Director of Programming for the Xbox Live Service, Hyrb writes a weekly (and sometimes daily) blog that shares news about LIVE as well as provides an inside look at operations for the Xbox division.

Beacons and Game Information

The Beacon System is an addition to the console that is long overdue -- and while it can indeed be used to create a Beacon so that you mates know that you want to play a particular game, and when you want to play it -- its true strength is more in the information that it can provide to you, and in particular in letting you know in a convenient and easy to use interface which of your mates actually are playing and own the games you do.

Before the new interface obtaining that information -- if you did not want to ask them directly -- usually meant searching through the Achievement Comparison Screens -- which we freely admit was a major pain in the ass.

Now all that is required is selecting Beacons from either menu, and you are instantly shown the last five games you played, and the statistics that relate to them with respect to your mates -- how many are playing it and if they are playing it right now. Knowing that 13 of my mates recently played YouTube may not be useful information to me, but the fact that one of them recently played Halo: CEA is a very valuable piece of news to me indeed!

By selecting that game from the list I learn that my mate SybaRat has the game, and when they last played it. If I select their entry on the screen I am taken directly to their profile page, where I can send them an Invite, or chat with them, or just Compare Games to see how much farther along they are compared to me! Very spiffy indeed!

If I am looking for an opportunity to play with a mate and the last five games that I have played and that are on that screen are not the ticket, I can slide over to the third display option for that screen, and obtain a complete list of ALL of the activities of my mates and their games! This is amazingly useful information not simply because it tells me what they are playing and, naturally, what we might play together, but it also gives me an idea of what new games they have picked up in case I need some guidance on what new games that I should pick up!

This Friend's Activity Screen tells me who owns what, who is playing what, and when -- and as I mentioned above, that is information that we have always needed and it is about bloody time we got it! Computers are about information after all, and besides, when you play games together that is almost always better than just playing with yourself. Right?