Xbox LIVE Preview – First Impressions

Microsoft has today lifted its iron curtain and given a number of members, such as myself, access to the preview of its upcoming Xbox LIVE update, which is scheduled for a November release. Back in June I was sat in Microsoft’s E3 Press briefing, listening to the sounds of dropping jaws from their announcements of Twitter, Facebook and Last.fm integration on the Xbox LIVE platform . Back then I was also privy to a jaw drop or two, as Microsoft was hammering all sorts of nails into Sony’s online offering. However, fast forward to today and sadly all this excitement has warn off somewhat. 5 Months to integrate a few simple social networking APIs into the service seems a little long winded to me, especially with the workforce over in Microsoft HQ. Anyway, lets update the dash and see if these features are any good.

There are four main key features in this upcoming update:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Last.fm
  • Zune Video Marketplace

I’ve captured each of these features on video (coming soon) so that you can see all the workings in their digital glory. And you can then read on to learn about my experiences with each and my initial views. So lets fire up the first….

Twitter

I am pretty new to Twitter when compared to more veteran individuals on the interweb; but since the last 5 months I have been on Twitter I have been compelled to share my daily rants and also learn from others of whom I follow. The Twitter service on the Xbox 360 is the only feature that doesn’t require a downloaded installation, which means it’s become an integral part of the overall system update, where as the other features take a more ‘opt-in’ approach. Perhaps this is Microsoft’s nod to supporting the recent Twitter explosion, or just that the Twitter API and user interface is something that is so small and simple and isn’t as feature-packed as the other social services.

Once logged in you are taken to the main overview where you can view your latest Twitter feed from the people you are following. Only four tweets (and your latest tweet) are viewable on screen, additional tweets (up to a max of 50) can be manually scrolled through. Tweets are also automatically updated every so often. Clicking on a particular tweet sends you to a fairly simple menu where you can view the time it was posted and its client. You also have the option to send a reply, retweet, favourite the tweet or check out the poster’s profile page. Posting a tweet is as simple as sending a message over Xbox LIVE, all but with Twitter’s 140 character limit.

During my play through I noticed a few buggy elements, such as a bug with thumbnails appearing next to the wrong tweets, something I am sure will be fixed before release. Overall though I think it’s a good addition should you be no where near your computer or laptop to check on your Twitter feed. However, without the ability to tweet or check tweets whilst in game renders this feature a little cumbersome for me, as I am not too far from a laptop or computer whilst in-game, and if I am out of game I am more likely going to be on or near my laptop anyway.

Facebook

Personally I am on Twitter more than Facebook, however for the casual user with their PC or laptop out of reach, or in another room, I can see the appeal of the Facebook service here. Browsing friend news feeds, through to their profiles and photos are only a few button presses away. The photo mode is a great feature to catch up on friends and family submitted photos, or to just flick through the many submitted drunken photos of you on your high-definition display. Similar to the MSN integration over Xbox LIVE, in Facebook you can view your Facebook friends who have installed the Facebook service as well as seeing your Xbox LIVE pals on Facebook.

Personally I don’t think i’ll be dipping into this too much, however there are millions of hardcore Facebook users our there that will no doubt relish this service on Xbox LIVE. And you never know, you might exchange a few Xbox LIVE invites with some old school or work pals of yours! – ahem.

Last.fm

Last.fm is another downloadable feature for the new Xbox LIVE update. Once downloaded and signed-in you’ll see your profile and library, through to your saved radio stations and recommended tracks. I hope in time of release everything will load quicker. Sadly with a service such as this, album art will be of high download demand here, so I can see you’ll be waiting for content to download quite regularly.

Just like the rest of the new update features, being a contained service, you cannot navigate back to the dash whilst streaming Last.fm content. For me this is a deal-breaker for me, as I like to be doing other things than staring at a blank screen whilst listening to music. You can on the other hand browse band profiles and other albums and artists from the Last.fm service during audio playback, via in the player that sits below, but as soon as you quit out of the service your streaming experience ends.

If your 360 is hooked up to an amp, I can see this service being good for parties or gatherings with friends once your favourite station is selected. Sadly though I did notice ‘Advertisements’ pop up briefly between a few tracks, so expect some Spotify-esque advertisements to pop-up between radio station plays. I also hope we’ll see album art featured during full screen playback as seen over on the web version of the service.

Zune Video Marketplace

Zune brings instant access to videos, which is unknown in the current Video Marketplace. I find it a little strange that this area is associated with the Zune brand, because I personally look at the name/brand as audio more than video. Anyway, once downloaded and installed you are shown a similar setup to the current Video Marketplace. Once a film is chosen you have the option to rent or buy in standard or high-definition varieties. This is nothing new if you are a user of the Video Marketplace, however the one difference here is you can instantly stream 1080p video from the off. Overall, at this time of writing the service is lacking on content; more so in the downloadable and streaming areas of the service as well as titles as a whole.

Cost of rentals are a little all over the place too, with standard definition rentals costing between 250MP and 360MP, through to high definition rentals at around 380MP to 540MP. There is currently also an option to buy the standard definition version of Valkyrie for the same cost of the rental (360MP), which I found a little odd.

With its ‘Instant on HD at 1080p’, Smooth Streaming technology and Party viewing modes I am sure there will be plenty here for movie buffs, but only when they fill it up with worthwhile content and perhaps standardise the price a little more.

Overall, all these social features help add to the value of the whole Xbox LIVE experience. It is a shame these features cannot be accessed more speedily, such as through the Guide button. If I was able to tweet to my Twitter feed, or listen to a Last.fm radio station whist browsing the rest of the dash I could see myself using these features a fair amount. But for me, I can’t see myself using these much, especially with a laptop or the popular netbook at close reach. It appears to me that Microsoft is increasing its reach into the casual market and making its LIVE service more appealing to the less/non-gamer; even more so with the imminent release of its Sky collaboration. With the wide public preview rollout in a few days time, we will see how many people take to these new features as well as the rumoured additional extras that will be rolled out in the weeks after the preview launches.

Twitter
Facebook
Reddit
LinkedIn

Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

By clicking on the buttons above and buying an item from Amazon, you will help support us by giving us affiliate commission. It will not cost you extra, but it will go a long way in allowing us doing what we do best here. Thank you!

Learn how to support us

Recent Posts

Game Reviews
Hardware Reviews
What's Trending