Wow, only 5 months have passed since we first posted about the Spring update. The release process never seems to slow down but as tired as we all are, I’m still excited to be talking about our third major update to our system software for Xbox 360. Later tonight (or early in the morning depending on your location) the November ’06 update will go live and with it you will get to see the work we’ve put in over the last 5 months.
Coming out of Spring we looked really hard at all the feedback each of you provided. We are always listening to our Product Support people. We dissected the replies from Major Nelson’s blog and of course we review the feedback from the Xbox.com forums. In addition we are all gamers, and we are passionate about making our product better. This will be the third evolution of our system software and with it I’m super proud of what we’re delivering. I’m hoping that you guys will be too.
Back in my original post from June I explained the concept of ‘Your Games, Your Friends and Your Lifestyle’. This is still something we pivot around in our planning for Xbox 360 and it provides a good framework to talk about some of the changes we’ve made with this release.
For Your Games, we invested heavily in enabling new experiences. The Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel is an awesome accessory and we worked around the clock to make sure that there was support in the system for this cool new experience. Wireless is where it’s at in the Next-Gen and this is why we’re excited to also provide support for the Xbox 360 Wireless Headset as well. People loved not being tethered to the console with their controllers before, now they can be totally wire free when online with their friends using the new Wireless Headset. And they can be wireless to their console when tearing up the laps using the new wheel.
Here on the 360 Team we all love Xbox Live Arcade and from all the downloads of games we know you do as well. The Arcade team did an amazing job in improving their part of the dashboard this release. Being able to auto-download new titles….seeing your friends scores from the Arcade page….improving the enumeration speeds, are all part of the improvements in this area. We’re really proud of how well Arcade has done since launch but now we get to look forward to the games you guys may create via XNA Express. We worked closely with the XNA team to ensure support was in this release for developing your own games and running them on a retail Xbox 360 console. I’ve seen some of the really cool games being developed on XNA Express that have just blown me away. Enthusiasts and hobbyists around the world have been anxious to develop games on a next-gen console, and now they can.
For Your Lifestyle, we decided to focus heavily on video with this release. One of the ‘loudest’ feedback items we heard over and over was around not being able to stream videos unless you had a Windows Media Center Edition PC. I can’t even begin to count how many conspiracy theories there were around why this limitation was in place. With this update we can now dispel all those theories. We are now streaming videos from your XP / Vista PC and you can even play them back from USB 2.0 drives or data discs if you’d like. I know we are going to get a lot of feedback on the codec support we provided with this release. Let me save everyone the trouble….we know that WMV is not the only video format out there….we know that people want more choices…. and we know folks will want other codecs like H.264 / Mpeg4 / Divx / etc. Our approach from launch day last year is that we listen to constructive feedback and while I can’t promise anything for the future, I can promise that we will listen and will improve our system software over time. Some things are just not doable because of legal or licensing issues, but where possible we really try to drive new digital entertainment experiences for your lifestyle. Additional codec support is already something we’re thinking of for the future.
In addition to the streaming video support, we spent a huge amount of time getting the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player support baked into the system. I’ve been playing movies on my final production HD DVD unit and I’m amazed at the picture quality and interactive features built into the HD DVD movies. I hope everyone else gets a chance to the player out. Once you’ve gone HD, you just can’t go back!
We also worked closely with our co-workers in Zune to make sure the experience with a Zune device is handled really well on the Xbox 360. We expect that streaming videos, music and pictures will be popular with folks and I look forward to increasing the support between the two devices. Also with the Zune software on your PC you can stream AAC encoded files to your Xbox 360, something that wasn’t possible prior to this release.
With this release out the door, we’ll take a step back, collect our breaths and start to get ready for the next one. Post your feedback because we love to hear about how you’d improve and make this system better. We believe that incredible software and world class services are what make us stand out in this next generation. Your feedback guides us on what to improve or add.
Now it’s time to find some time for in-depth ‘product testing’ on some of the new games coming out. I’ve had a chance to play the final version of Gears of War and Viva Pinata, and both of them are amazing. I’m really looking forward to Rainbow Six: Vegas, as I had a chance to meet the dev team and help them integrate the Xbox Live Vision into the game about 11 months ago.
Daryl Welsh (GT: IndieGames)
Below is the full feature list of changes with this release.
Xbox Live Arcade
· Lightning-fast enumeration and listing of all Xbox Live Arcade games on the console.
· Find games quickly with two new sort options: Recently Played and By Category.
· Have all new Xbox Live Arcade games at the ready with auto-downloads. Auto-downloads optionally adds newly released trial versions of games to active downloads when you enter Xbox Live Arcade.
· View full achievement info in Xbox Live Arcade, including icons, achievement point details, and descriptions.
· Friends leaderboard: Compare yourself with friends and view leaderboard details right from the Xbox Dashboard.
· Tell a friend: Send a message to a friend about your newest favorite Xbox Live Arcade game.
· Improved support for extended all-black scenes in WMV content.
· Added support for Windows Media Video 9 Advanced profile video.
· Screen saver now becomes active when videos are paused.
· Now shares UI and player controls with DVD player.
· Improved video playback while downloading from Xbox Live.
· Added skip controls (forward approx. 30 seconds, back approx. 7 seconds).
· Improved messaging around unplayable video content.
· Added time elapsed and time remaining displays.
· Improved playback of high bit-rate HD content on fragmented hard drives.
· Improved visual quality of video playback.
· Added selectable display modes: default and letterbox zoom.
· New locale setting for China.
· Improved German translations in console settings.
· Improved German translations in Memory area.
· Improved Japanese translations in Family Settings.
· Added localized text for all supported languages in Pictures area.
· Improved Spanish translations in camera effects.
· Improved locale-specific decimal denominators.
· Added localization support for title menu and main menu in the DVD player.
· Added localization support for “Attempting to Read Media” system message.
· Added support for Xbox 360 HD DVD Player content..
· Added new page for viewing content size by category.
Other System Improvements
· Updated support for new Daylight Saving changes coming in 2007.
· Improved support for games to better handle host migration in multi-player matches.
· Improved Xbox Live Vision camera support for changing room lighting while zooming.
· Background-downloaded videos appear in video area
· Improved Xbox Live Vision camera support while using VGA.
· Playing photo slideshows from PC now maintains picture folder hierarchy.
· Improved user experience when playing and deleting videos from the Games or Media areas.
· Improved handling of invalid characters during Xbox Live signup.
· Better handling of watermarks in gamer cards.
· Improved text for Windows Media Connect..
· Improved UI performance in Windows Media Center.
· Improved connection support for Buffalo WZR-G108 wireless router when using Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter.
· Redownload of deleted Xbox Live Arcade Games no longer re-enumerates all games on the Xbox Live Arcade page.
· Improved visual display of text in themes.
· Improved support for CD playback after signing up for Xbox Live and losing network connectivity.
· Improved support for long names of items Memory area.
· Improved handling of gamer pictures downloaded from Xbox Live.
· Improved background download notifications when downloading many small items from Xbox Live.
· Improved support for custom backgrounds after returning to the Xbox Dashboard from the Account Management area.
· Improved network reliability between Windows Media Center on Windows Vista and Xbox 360 consoles using Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter.
· Improved voice chat quality in Xbox Dashboard and in-game chats.
· Improved messaging when failing to connect to Windows Media Center.
· Improved USB keyboard support when using a USB hub.
· Improved consistency of user experience when deleting various types of content.
· Improved handling of low storage space for background downloads.
· Improved handling of picture streaming from attached digital cameras over MTP protocol.
· Improved error messaging for optional iPod support download when storage devices are full.
· Improved handling of multi-key repeating for USB keyboards.
· Expanded Family Settings to include support for blocking unrated DVDs and videos.
· Added ability to clear space from storage devices in download areas.
· Added support for low-speed and full-speed USB keyboards.
· Improved caps lock behavior for USB keyboards.
· Improved look and feel for Xbox Live Marketplace and Xbox Live Arcade.
· Added redeem code option to Xbox Live signup.
· Removed system message at the start of new downloads. Messages will be displayed for completed items.
· Added support for CCV credit card validation field in Xbox Live Marketplace purchase areas.
· Updated “More Information” instructions in the Xbox Dashboard for connecting an Xbox 360 console to a Windows-based PC to stream digital media content.
· Added auto-scroll to long text descriptions in Xbox Dashboard UI.
· Improved support for DVD insertion while playing a video file.