Xbox 360 owners will soon be able to chat with their friends on Windows Live Messenger and vice versa, with a new Xbox 360 Text Input Device - a sort of clip-on keyboard - due for release this summer.
Integration with Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger. Before the dark times. Before the empire) will happen on 7th May as part of the free Xbox 360 "spring update", which will also introduce a number of minor interface tweaks. As usual, they're the sort of things that you hadn't necessarily thought of, but can imagine finding useful.
7th May, of course, is the day that "Games for Windows - LIVE" launches in the US (18th May in Europe), introducing a raft of features that bind the Xbox 360 and PC together, but it sounds like the spring update's Live Messenger integration will allow gamers to see their friends' gamertags at a glance whether they have upgraded to Windows Vista and "Games for Windows - LIVE" or not.
Early shots of the Xbox 360 interface show how it will be possible to start conversations with users, with message windows popping up over the top of the dashboard. You'll be able to talk to one another using a virtual on-screen keyboard, a USB keyboard, or the new QWERTY Text Input Device due out this summer. Shots of that peripheral can be found in the Xbox 360 Text Input Device photo gallery, amazingly.
Among the other tweaks made in the spring update are:
- A change to the "Achievement unlocked" pop-up, which shows you the name of the achievement and the amount of gamerpoints it represents as soon as you unlock it, saving you a trip to the Achievements screen.
- The ability to fast-forward, rewind, pause and resume videos you're watching as they download from Xbox Live Marketplace.
- Being able to see the title of the game as part of the tray icon on the dashboard, rather than just a prompt to play the game. Highlighting the tray lists achievements and gamerscore for the title if it's a 360 game, while Xbox 1 games simply list the name and show a picture.
- Playback support for H.264 (up to 10MBps peak, baseline, main and high profiles with 2-channel AAC LC) and MPEG-4 Part 2 (5MBps peak, simple profile with 2-channel AAC LC) videos.
- Enhanced family settings for text and video chat.
- An update to Xbox Live Arcade that allows you to see which games your friends are playing and join in, as well as compare leaderboard scores and achievements from the friends list.
- An option on the "Auto Downloads" page to download all the free versions of Live Arcade games.
- Switchable aspect ratios for video playback (Auto to Letterbox, Zoom, Stretch, Native).
- Various notifications to stop you downloading or transferring content when not enough disk space is available, as well as other tweaks that remember settings and folder hierarchies.
Microsoft has published a larger list of changes that are being rolled into the spring update, due 7th May, on Xbox.com. Expect more details in the coming weeks.