Yesterday was a big day for Microsoft, they held their press conference at the E3 convention and made some really exciting announcements that had the web buzzing. Out of the whole presentation, only two things really bothered me, but I am incredibly excited for the rest of the updates they announced for my favorite console this generation.
Netflix Software Enhancements
When they originally announced the Netflix integration for Xbox 360 I went and signed up for both a Netflix account and an Xbox Live Gold account. Honestly, I think I use Netflix on my Xbox just as much as I play games on it. It is by far one of the standout features that make the Xbox more useful than its competition.
The upgrade to the software will now let you browse the entire Netflix catalog on your Xbox and add movies to your queue without having to first log in to your account on your computer to add them. I think this is an incredible improvement, as someone who uses the service, having to add movies on my computer was by far one of the most annoying parts of the system. This upgrade is going to make a shining feature even better.
Full Retail Game Downloads
This I’m kind of on the fence about if for no other reason than the prices. Starting this fall you will be able to download full Xbox 360 games straight to your hard drive, similar to how they already offer Xbox Originals. This feature seems only possible because of their choice to stay with regular DVD discs instead of going with Blu-Ray or HD-DVD because a 4.7 GB full DVD game won’t kill all of the space on your drive, just some of it. Apparently they will be the same price as the full retail versions, and this is what bugs me. Yeah, you are getting the convenience of just downloading the game and not having to go out, but you aren’t getting a manual, or box, and there is no freight involved. I think that they should have at least dropped the price of the game a couple of bucks if you downloaded them.
There is now going to be a Last.fm section on your Xbox 360 dashboard. It will allow you to stream millions of songs straight from the Last.fm servers to your Xbox. You can create and share radio stations, and mark tracks that you do and don’t like. It seems to be a very full-featured app but requires a Gold account to access.
Project Natal (Pictured Above)
This is one of the other things I’m not really feeling. Project Natal allows for controller-free gaming on the Xbox system. It utilizes a camera type device with many sensors and it detects your movements without you having to wave a remote around like on the Wii. In Microsoft’s words:
Compatible with any Xbox 360 system, the “Project Natal” sensor is the world’s first to combine an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device. Unlike 2D cameras and controllers, “Project Natal” tracks your full body movement in 3D, while responding to commands, directions and even a shift of emotion in your voice.
It sounds very advanced and I’d like to see what they can do with it, but as far as right now, I’m not very interested. I much prefer a controller when I’m playing a video game. I can’t see myself standing up and moving all around the room while playing something.
Being that it is supposedly very sensitive and powerful, I would much rather see it integrated into a computer interface rather than a video gaming system. Imagine controlling your computer with touch and gestures like the Microsoft Surface but without having to touch the screen you could mount it on the wall and still interact with it. Hopefully, Microsoft sees this potential and re-purposes the device at some time in the future.
Getting Social With It
Also to be released are integrated Twitter and Facebook clients for the Xbox dashboard. They are both completely custom apps built for the Xbox with the controller rather than the mouse and keyboard in mind. The Facebook app looks like it covers the full breadth of features that Facebook offers, and it looks like it does it well. You might never need to log into Facebook on your computer ever again, as it is I use it more on my iPhone than on my computer. With the Twitter client, you will be able to read, post, and reply to friends’ tweets from the comfort of your couch.
On another social note, they are going to allow movie and music sharing with your Xbox friends with Netflix and Last.fm respectively. I think the Netflix movie sharing will allow 7 friends to all watch a movie together.
Rebranding of the Video Store
Xbox Live Video marketplace is going to be rebranded as the Zune Video Store. It is going to include all the same features as before with a few notable upgrades. The cross-branding of Zune and Xbox is just what Microsoft needs to get the Zune name in a lot of households, which in turn might help them sell more Zunes, I’m very surprised they haven’t tried something like this before. The notable new feature for the Zune Video Store is the ability to stream 1080p HD video right to your television without having to download it. They have outlined the compatibility of this new feature and you will first need a 1080p television, your Xbox hooked up with an HDMI cable, and at least 8 Mbps download speeds from your Internet service provider. If you have all of those you are good to go.
Odds and Ends
Other than what I’ve outlined above they also announced some new games. The ones I am most excited for are Left 4 Dead 2, and Crackdown 2. They also announced a digital TV service for some areas of the UK provided through Sky Networks. I really like what they’re doing with this system and look forward to using these new features when they drop. The Xbox 360 was already my favorite console of the generation and these updates look to push it even farther ahead of the pack.