November 01, 2010, 11:13 AM — Microsoft's Xbox Live fall update, which includes a dashboard overhaul, just hit the cloud. You can download it now if you're near your Xbox 360...you know, laid up at home with a sugar hangover. I blame those little boxes of chewy Lemonheads.
The update adds an ESPN channel with live and on-demand events, expands the Zune Music service, streamlines Netflix searching, replaces the existing audio codec to improve voice chat quality, and makes the dashboard's visually receding stack of selection boxes all the same size.
Microsoft's original Xbox 360 dashboard employed a handful of pages called "blades." They were crowded with submenu options, sometimes lagged when shifting left or right, and the blade-end menu tabs were arranged in a way that made it difficult to tell which blade you were on. Then the PlayStation 3 appeared with its unadorned, slightly off-center crossbar menu that let you scroll left or right through a general category like 'photos' or 'music' and up or down to select functions.
The company's fall 2008 dashboard update moved the Xbox 360 nearer Sony's approach. It traded blade-pages for a simpler X-Y menu, then inverted Sony's crossbar. You moved up or down to select general categories like 'games' or 'videos', but left and right along the X axis to select functions.
The fall 2010 dashboard makeover still works like that, but eschews the latter's overlapping and dwindling boxes and makes them all one size (save for whatever's currently selected, which remains slightly larger and popped out). It also means you can't see as much onscreen at once. The fall 2008 update lets you see six boxes simultaneously. The fall 2010 update cuts that by half. It's the right choice for two reasons: No one looked more than two boxes down the line because the boxes were too small, and navigating rapidly no longer chugs, probably because there's less to juggle at once.
I've been fiddling with the new interface for a couple weeks. It's a pretty significant improvement. My only complaint's one that has less to do with Microsoft than its arrangement with ESPN. When I tried to view the Iowa-Michigan game a few weeks ago, I got an error message about the stream's availability due to some kind of regional blackout (I live about a mile down the street from the stadium in Ann Arbor). Assuming it wasn't a beta glitch, I'm guessing it has something to do with local affiliate restrictions, and who's allowed to broadcast this stuff if you're a local viewer.