Xbox Live Update Preview

This week Microsoft released the preview for their fall update, adding Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM and the Zune Marketplace to the  Xbox Live Dashboard.  While the final update will become available to both Gold and Silver members in November, Microsoft offered up a chance to get in on the update early. If you didn’t get the nod, no worries – we’re here to give you the details.


Although not as robust as the full website, Facebook on the 360 allows you to check up on your friends, view their pictures, post comments and update your status. It works much as you would expect, navigating through menus just like you do on the Dashboard now, and the updated streaming abilities (thanks, in part, to the addition of Zune Marketplace which we’ll get into later) means it runs a lot quicker than you think it would.

As with all of the new features, a small download of around 7 MBs installs the Facebook application on your Dashboard. The first time you will have to login with usernames and passwords, but the 360 conveniently stores the information for future uses. After that, it’s just navigating through the blades to find friends, photos and updates. One of the major draws of Facebook on the 360 is a means to displaying photos on the ‘big screen’. Photos are quick and easy to locate, and the resolution is everything you would want it to be. The other thing you’ll be doing a lot of – at least initially – will be updating your status. Pro Tip: a quick click of the X button on any page with the app lets you instantly let the world know what you’re up to. And if you were one of the few to pick up the 360’s Chatpad attachment for the controller, you’ll be typing through status updates and commenting on photos like a madman. If not, hunt and peck tapping still works just fine.

There are a few limitations, however, to Microsoft’s foray into social networking. For one, some of the promised features aren’t yet included in the update. Facebook on the 360 is a standalone application, so if you want to check up on the rest of the world, you’re going to have to quit playing a game or watching a movie to do so. Also, the update doesn’t allow you to take screenshots in game and post them on Facebook yet, but the rumor is it’s still coming. Similarly, you won’t be able to upload pictures, check on your crops in Farmville, or any of the other applications available on the full site.



Twitter on the 360 gives you almost all the functionality you get on the internet – you can check out what’s new on the tweeters that you follow, you can post your own tweets, and you can search for new folks to follow or stop following if your mind is melting from over indulging in someone’s randomness. Like Facebook and Last.FM, you’re going to have to setup an account ahead of time on your computer for Twitter before you access the apps on your 360, as the programs don’t allow you to sign up.

It also has the same downside as Facebook – you won’t be twittering from your 360 while playing a game. So if you want to let the whole world know about that triple kill by a single Spartan laser shot in Halo, you’re going to have to wait until the round’s over.


For the uninitiated, Last.FM is an internet radio station that lets users search for favorite artists and genres, then finds and plays similar music it think you’ll like. It’s a lot like iTunes’ Genius feature and Microsoft’s recent Zune update, Smart DJ mix. The difference is that the music Last.FM plays isn’t tied specifically to the music that you own. Instead, it will ‘Scrobble’ – or stream – the music for you, giving your ears a wider range of tunes to keep you happy.

The Xbox 360 version of Last.FM runs almost identically to its PC and Mac applications, allowing you to search by band or previously found radio stations based on more popular artists and groups, and even listen to a station created specifically for you. There’s also additional playlists specific to the 360, giving you new radio stations like the Video Game Soundtrack station, 8 Bit Mix, Chiptunes, and more. My first listen bounced me from music from The Legend of Zelda to Tetris, Halo to Donkey Kong Country  and more.

It’s a great app for the parties and the downtime, but like it’s counterparts Facebook and Twitter, you won’t be doing anything else on your 360 while streaming music. It should also be noted that Facebook, Twitter and Last.FM, while initially available to all 360 users, will become Gold-only options by the end of the year.


Zune Marketplace

What you knew and loved and probably hated about the old Xbox Live Video Marketplace is changing with the update as well – and changing for the better. The Video Marketplace is being converted to the Zune Marketplace. This is going to greatly speed up the way you not only search but watch videos, TV shows, movies and more on your 360.

With the update, gone is the old school ways of actually having to download your videos. Instead, with the Zune Marketplace, everything will be streamed. While for the first few seconds you’ll notice some blurry pixelation, the picture quality quickly smoothes out, making even some lower grade video appear in near-HD quality. This is, of course, dependent on your internet connection, but even moderate connections stream well. The extra bonus here is that you won’t be filling up your hard drive with all those chick flick movies your girlfriend want to watch, which means more room to download Live Arcade games.

What’s better is any purchase made on your 360 will now be made available to your computer as well, through the Zune software. For those Zune owners out there, that means the media you purchase via the Marketplace – be in the 360 or your computer – will now be available to your 360, your computer and your Zune with no extra purchases or hassles.

All in all, the update shows Microsoft’s dedication to making the Xbox 360 the go-to-place for entertainment and social networking. None of the applications disappoint in the least, and though chances are no one will rush out to buy a 360 just because Facebook and Twitter are on the box, it’s definitely a boon to those of us already in the Xbox community. Be on the lookout for this one in November! 

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