360 NXE, a Pretty Piggy

I received an unexpected email welcoming me to the 2nd batch of NXE (New Xbox Experience) testers on the weekend, and thought I would share my thoughts, from a NZ perspective. I fit snugly in the average game console owner. I’m not a hardcore gamer. I don’t have a Gold Live! account, I don’t feel I have enough spare time to play online regularly. So with that in mind, how is it?

The first impression I get with the NXE is a reorganization, a redesign and more than anything a re-emphasis to the 360 interface. There’s not really anything ground breaking, the re-emphasis all being towards Microsoft’s Live! platform and the services around it.

You’d think when you log in to your machine this would be the first menu…….

Suffice to sat it works. It’s a nicer, pettier version of much of what we’ve all used.
Sadly there’s very little customization – your previous themes have been turned into mere backgrounds. There’s no way of making a menu based on what you use often over what Microsoft wants me to see.
I’m yet to discover a way of making the first menu opened on boot as the MyXbox menu, it instead defaults to the Spotlight menu – which is basically a section of advertisements (see a pic below).
The amount of XBOX Live! ads now present is now over the top. In the old Blade system ads were displayed on a panel ad on the right and that’s all you would mostly see – now, thanks to its new found 3D menu, Live ads can go off into infinity and almost every ‘section’ has some sort of ad for either a game add-on or LiveArcade game.
Also some old interface annoyances turn up in dark corners, one personal peev is that in my house there are 4 profiles on my machine, my girlfriend has one, along with housemates past and present – yet I am near the bottom of the profile list, I don’t want to autologin but do login in a lot more than anyone else.

Another interesting thing, last week some news popped up that half of the features originally planned for NXE were dropped (*cough* Longhorn *cough*). Infact some demo’d already have been dropped – PrimeTime, an Xbox Live based online game show program co-developed with Endemol creators of shows such as Big Brother and Fear Factor. It’s meant to be a more social gaming section, with less one player and more emphasis on multiplayer.

This is the default menu to the new NXE. Advertisment city.

Game Installs
Awesome – we can all finally hear our games and not the DVD drive (easily the 360’s biggest flaw beside RROD’s). This is a mildly ingenious way around a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Interestingly this shows that some parts of the old XBOX has been used in 360 games XBE’s from day one – ie Playfrommedia switch. From what I imagine, the 360 rips the entire game, patches the XBE to allow execution off HD and then uses a quick NXE based check for original media before executing.
Sadly game start times haven’t shown a huge improvement in early tests which makes the main motivation for installing games only really a noise improvement.

This is like the Wii’s Mii’s but in HD, and as with your Mii’s you can have a great laugh trying to create yourself on the new system. Face and body shapes and features are adequate and clothing options are good, but not fantastic. My fear is that we’ll be paying for many new outfits, jewelery and hair do’s. I wonder will Game dev’s offer items of clothing via games – will I be able to get Master Chiefs armor? or favourite bands Tee via Rock Band? who knows.

What does seem sad though is that in someways this doesn’t quite go far enough – with Playstation Home being only a few months away Microsoft would have been well placed to include a few Avatar friendly mini games in NXE. It would have caught up with some of the Wii’s instant ‘I wanna play as me!’ aspect that you get with Mii’s and Wii Sport. Along with the fact Home will be offering bowling alleys and other basic social games – yet on the NXE (for now) what you get is a 3D customizable profile picture and little more. Games are in development that support Avatars – so far only a couple have been announced Scene It? Box Office Smash will add support (via an update) and cutesy SimCity clone A Kingdom for Keflings.

If anything, the 360’s media capabilities have been downgraded in importance. Which is surprising as it is a terribly import part of any console beingbe the centre of your lounge (something even more the case now we have drums and guitars lying around).
Of course this shows if anything a huge ideological difference between Microsoft and Sony.
Sure, the two systems interfaces look completely different, but they both fundamentally offer almost identical features and end uses. Sadly I think this is still done best on the PS3’s XMB, with it’s Music/Pictures/Games/Online/Friends system. It keeps it simple, yet offers a wider section of uses.

The Music playback interface still blows, no new visualizations, no cover views, it seems to take 4 (Music Source->Albums->Album Name->Play All) clicks to get things playing when two should do.
There’s also some things missing, the ability to actually get your non Microsoft media on to the console – in a time of DRM there should be an easy way of moving/backing up your iPod/Zune/Harddrive to the 360’s music library – nope. Importing is still CD only.

The same as the old one but different colours……

Another big disappointment is the 360’s video playback has seen no improvements, AAC/MPEG-4 files still require a separate download and force you login to Live to playback files in those formats. The codecs package aren’t installed by default, even though it has been over a year since the update was released. Also, when I tried to see if clips I knew used to play, often wouldn’t, despite flawless playback previously – see pic.


Finally, media serving via uPnP from other sources over a network is still borked, with Microsoft still sticking to it’s nonstandard version of uPnP – meaning devices that are detectable on the PS3 and numerous other supporting devices – still fail to appear on the 360.

Add to this that one of the killer new features, Netflix, is of course tied and limited to North America. I can’t imagine Microsoft working with other companies to offer other markets to offer alternatives. Of course if Apple can offer movies via iTunes NZ then I’m sure Microsoft will planning to offer something similar sooner or later.

Over it
It’s in this end the new interface actually goes slightly backwards, all too much of the update push you to Live! and recommends and hypes Live! content – often even when you may have turned on your 360 to watch a movie or to just listen to an album.
This update hasn’t addressed the other and possibly far more serious threat – the PlayStation 3.

While not perfect, the PlayStation 3 still offers a much better package for someone who might buy just one console.
Add Sony’s short term plans of releasing a NZ compatible FreeviewHD PVR, Sony Home, and it’s more compatible media offerings, I can only see them continuing to strengthen their base.

If someone asked me which console to buy, and they said they wanted play a few games possibly online, watch movies, play music, I just can’t see any reasons to choose a 360 over it’s slightly more expensive competitor.  And I think that’s where Microsoft have an issue.

Microsoft have possibly the best games console out there – but don’t have any of the cherries that sweeten the deal.

Installing Games = less noise.
Nicer interface design (not much better though, just nicer).
New OS = New bugs, Exploits?

XBOX LIVE Ads everywhere.
No web browser.
Media playback still lacking. no MKV, no MOV, no AC3, very hit and miss on what will actually play, even when it looks like it should. Still no true DLNA uPnP support.
No favourites menu or ability to turn off any live ads.
If you don’t play online or live in the USA there’s not as much new shit as you’d have hoped.
DRM implementation still looking as bad as ever.

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