As children eagerly wait for Christmas, anticipating unwrapping their presents, Xbox owners can look forward to Tuesday, December 4th.
On this day, Microsoft will deliver an update to the Xbox Dashboard. For those of you without an Xbox, Dashboard is the main user interface for interacting with your Xbox when you aren't playing games or watching movies. In fact, there's a lot of things you can do there, most of which are mentioned in a post entitled 360 406 Reasons to Love Xbox 360.
Here's my take on some of new features we know about so far. After I play with the update, I'll follow up on anything I might have gotten wrong.
Xbox Originals: This is a straightforward extension of the digital download market, but an excellent move - you will now be able to purchase games for the original Xbox as digital downloads. Not only is this a great (and cheap) way to enjoy some of the older titles you may have missed (pricing should run $15 per game), but this will also drive down the aftermarket prices for those games, which you will probably be able to pick up for about $10 if you'd rather have them on CD. This isn't particularly original - Wii already lets you download classic games from other systems, as does PS3 and PSP. But it's nice to see the trend growing. I'm particularly looking forward to Psychonauts, which I've been wanting to play for some time, but just hadn't gotten around to. Since these are full downloads, you may need to expand your hard disk space if you have a lot of content there - I picked up the extended 120 GB drive, so I'll be prepared (more money for Microsoft, since those drives are considerably marked up).
Xbox LIVE Arcade Hits: A rather indirect way of saying reduced prices on selected XBLA (Xbox LIVE Arcade) games. This is a digital analog to the Greatest Hits strategy used on all the consoles, where the most popular titles are released at a reduced price about a year after the main sales are done, to bring in extra revenue. I already have the titles getting this initial discount, but I applaud the price cuts in any case. Some of the cuts are being applied to some titles which have been considered over priced in the past (Billiards and Lumines) - those may be more market adjustments than a traditional greatest hits strategy, but whatever works.
Xbox Social: The Xbox is pushing a little bit into more social aspects. This includes minor tweaks like an enhanced online biography, and more visibility into other users' friends. Email was sent out about this a couple weeks ago, giving users a chance to opt-out before the system was turned on. It looks like nothing too ground shaking here, though - it's not like we have Facebook or Twitter integrated into the Xbox.
Enhanced Parental Controls: Here's a little item that may make some kids unhappy. Parents will now be able to impose time quotas for their Xbox - either per day, or per week. Unfortunately, this is a system-wide lock, and not a per user lock, so if you have multiple children, one of them can "use up" all the time alloted to the console, and leave the other kids with no play time (reminding me of the hungry philosophers problem in computer science). For me, this feature would primarily be useful for locking the Xbox while the kids are home alone, if they've been punished - otherwise, it's just a bit clunky. Or maybe using it to just give everyone a week off from playing games now and then. I can see some parents actually getting use out of this, though. As a parent, I'd probably rather see a feature to show me how many hours each day each user was on the system - this might help arbitrate disputes between the kids on whether the time is being shared fairly, without having to resort to any complex manual record keeping. (Note that one of my absolute favorite features on the Xbox 360 is the excellent user account system with individual passwords, which has been invaluable for avoiding the "You corrupted my file" arguments we get on the other systems. It's a shame they seem to have side-stepped that with this feature. I consider that a step backwards design wise.)
Finally, there's the usual pile of bigger, better, faster features, include updated navigation, better video codecs, and so forth. So, what feature are you most looking forward to? Leave your comments, and let me know.