I was lucky enough to get in on the pre-release of the New Xbox Experience last night, even if it is only less than a week early. Overlooking the fact that the new avatar system is a blantant rip-off of Miis, it is still the best update to come out for the 360 yet. Read on for my review or just jump right to the pictures.
The whole download and upgrade process took about 5 minutes. The NXE completely revamps the interface of the dashboard, and while it takes some getting used to, you’ll quickly figure out the navigation. Probably the 3 biggest features are new 3D avatars, game installation, and Netflix integration.
Since the NXE isn’t very widespread yet, I wasn’t able to see it in action very much (supposedly Uno has support for the new avatars, but I only had the gamer pics when I played a game last night). You can select from a randomly generated avatar as a starting point, and customize your face, body type, and clothing. You can save up to 3 sets of clothes to switch between. MS says they will be releasing more clothes and items in the coming weeks. While creating your character, the right stick will move their head around. Spin it to make them dizzy, move it up and down quickly to make them hit their head on the screen. Right-click causes them to burp, and LB and RB will give you various facial expressions.
Game installation will copy games from disc to your hard drive. If you have autoplay enabled, you’ll need to quit out to the dashboard, then press Y on the game title to install it. Installing COD4 took about 10 minutes. When you’re installing a game, it doesn’t tell you how much space it will take, and only gives you a progress meter. COD4 with the map pack eats up about 7.1GB, but the reduction in load times is well worth it. Not hearing the DVD drive running all the time also makes the system a lot quieter.
Netflix was perhaps the feature I was most looking forward to. After some setup issues, I was able to get it running. You’ll need to download the Netflix addon from the Video Marketplace menu, about 4MB. This will walk you through setting up a username and password for the service, and directs you to the Netflix website. Unfortunately, the Xbox section wasn’t live yet, but I was able to use the regular Member Signin to finish setting up my account. Two week free trial, CC required, and the base $8.99 plan includes unlimited streaming.
Activating the Xbox to my Netflix account took a couple of tries. The first time, it didn’t give me an activation code and told me to call customer service. Backing out and in gave me an activation code, but you’ve only got about a 1 minute window to get it entered into the Netflix site before the Xbox revokes the code, and you need to back out & in again for a new code. Some kind of timer notification, or a longer delay on the registration screen, would be nice.
Only ‘Instantly Watch’ movies are available (about 12k titles, not the full Netflix catalog). Some titles are not available on Xbox yet either, but there is no way of telling from the Netflix website. For example, I could stream Spiderman 3 to my laptop, but not to the 360. When you add a video to your Instant Queue on the Netflix website, it will show up on the 360 within 30 seconds or so. There is no way to browse and queue videos directly from the 360 interface.
I have a 3Mbps internet connection, and Netflix requires 5Mbps or higher for HD streaming. Buffering took about 1 minute with my 3-4 bars ‘connection quality’, and I only once had a movie rebuffer to a lower quality. I’d describe the quality as better than DVD usually, and Hulu quality at other times. There was no noticeable artifacting or audio issues.
I’d like to thank Eric for sending me the link to the pre-release sign up, even though he didn’t get into it himself 🙂