So, the changelogs looked rather unimpressive, and key features promised at E3 were conspicuous by their absence, but having spent some time with the new Xbox 360 dashboard, I can't help feel it's actually rather good, and, as is often the case with these system software upgrades, there are one or two undocumented features added to the mix that should please the hardcore fanbase.
I'm not going to dwell too much on the new features: rather, I'm going to show them off in action via a pristine HD streaming video, complemented by on-screen captions commenting on the changes. While some of the info imparted may be somewhat old now, the implementation is the most important aspect, and the video definitely shows the speed upgrades coded into the new update. Make no bones about it, NXE was slow and laggy, particularly in the manipulation of downloaded items once they started to stack up on your hard disk. In this respect, the new update is somewhat extraordinary.
There are plenty of small but significant changes here that more than make the download worthwhile, even if some of the show-stopping stuff is reserved for the US audience only. The Netflix "instant on" video streaming and ability to watch movies simultaneously with other Netflix users might not sound too enticing, but the functionality is getting plenty of love from those able to access it.
Something that is bound to prove more divisive is the new Avatar Marketplace. The idea is to further customise your on-screen counterpart by offering a range of new clothing and accessories, seemingly with various levels of wackiness. The kicker is that you're expected to pay for it, and it's fair to say that the prices are not low. Remember when 200 Microsoft Points would actually buy you an Xbox Live Arcade game? Well now you're expected to front up more than that for a themed Secret of Monkey Island costume.
While most individual items of clothing are in the 80 Point range (pricier than a 59p iPhone game), the more gonza items can be staggeringly expensive for what they are. You're going to have to watch the video to see just how much Microsoft reckons you'll want to pay to add a giant cotton swab, retractable telescope or radio-controlled Halo Warthog to your Avatar.
Of course, it's all optional. But then again, so was the much-maligned horse armour in Oblivion. The difference is, that did actually serve a purpose within the game. It's really difficult to see what value you're getting here. What is interesting, and rather telling, is that there is not one single piece of clothing in the Avatar Marketplace that is free to download. Any further freebies appear to be related to game-based unlocks and right now only the hit Arcade title 'Splosion Man is offering any reward-based clothing (or rather it will be, when the patch is out, hopefully before 11th August).
Perhaps what is most galling about the Avatar Marketplace is that you can't help but feel it is going to be a commercial success. Most of the clothing has been set at price levels that will vacuum up the MSP "small change" you can't help but accrue, or indeed get rid of in any other way owing to the points structure.
In terms of more positive surprises you'll find in the new update, perhaps the best news is that the optional installation of game discs to the hard drive has been optimised, sometimes with huge space-saving results. Just about all games see a reduction of around five to 10 per cent in their installations, but in the case of the smaller games out there, the result is even more dramatic.
The new King of Fighters XII game from SNK drops from 3.4GB to a sub-demo sized 703MB (!), while Raiden Fighters Aces drops from 3.4GB to 484MB (!!). Left 4 Dead is another example of a solid saving, with the original NXE install occupying 5GB while the new install drops 1.3GB to a mere 3.7GB. At the upper end of the scale, games that used to be in the 6.5GB range seem to have dropped a couple of hundred megabytes by and large, although some titles such as Fable II give no savings with the new installation technique.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of £4.50. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry