Are you experienced? As Jimi rock and rolls in his grave, Microsoft prepares to roll out their “New XBox Live Experience” on November 19th. First announced and shown at E3, the NXLE is essentially a giant Dashboard update, which means that ready or not, it is coming to your system in two weeks. In response to a “can I keep my old system?” FAQ, Microsoft replies, in near-Orwellian fashion:
“Why would you want to? The New Xbox Experience is the same experience you had before and so much more! As a matter fact, the blades that people have come to know and love are integrated directly in to the guide button so that every aspect of the Xbox experience is always only one button click away. The new Xbox experience is built with community as its foundation and requires everyone to upgrade.”
Microsoft is touting NXLE as the “ultimate social entertainment experience”. Apparently concerts, clubs, coffeeshops, and the like are done for good. But enough of slagging on the change for change’s sake. What’s new?
First up, move over Miis. Avatars are here. Immediately after downloading the new interface you will be asked to create an avatar, which will take the place of your gamerpic and will be used in games ranging from Scene It! to . . . Scene It! 2.
Next comes Themes 2.0. This PS3 Home-esque feature gives you your own little piece of virtual real estate. Each graphic you see in a theme ties into the overall effect, and there are rumors of purchaseable theme items for that “special touch”. People with friends can invite them into the Friends Channel to host an avatar party, complete with dressup dolls and pudgy unicorns. Ok, I made that last part up. Still love your Penny Arcade blades theme? Microsoft assures us that we won’t lose our old gamerpics and themes, but as of this writing, they “haven’t given out specifics about how your Gamerpics and Themes will be used when the update launches”.
One of the biggest new features, both in terms of impact and hard disk space, is the new Netflix on Demand feature. If this works like the PC version, XBox Live users will be able to watch any of thousands of movies on their large shiny TVs without having to wait for a disc to arrive in the mail. This feature requires membership in the Netflix unlimited subscription plan and, I’d imagine, sufficient hard disk space to store the data. This should become interesting to Comcast subscribers, who have a shiny new bandwidth cap.
Where does this leave “Arcade” and “Core System” users? Microsoft states that “to download the update, Xbox LIVE members will need to have at least 128MB of memory available. However, we recommend having a hard drive for the best experience.” Right. So upgrade now, folks, lest ye be judged.
All in all, I think that some of these changes are decent. The streamlined interface will be nice after the learning curve, and avatars look fun, if useless. The big draw is really Netflix, and we won’t know how well that actually works after launch. Here’s hoping they can keep the system up longer than Sony has of late with Little Big Planet.