The Xbox 360 turned 10 this week, and we've been reminiscing about the wonderful console each day with articles about its influence, its best games and even its dashboard. Now though, it's time for something a little different. It's time to go behind the scenes.
You could point to the console's library of games or Microsoft's groundbreaking technological spine of Xbox Live. You could even point to Xbox 360's Kinect (though it probably won't pick you up for a few seconds). In my mind, however, there's one thing every single Xbox 360 user could not fail to forget.
"Ch-ch-ch-changes," sang David Bowie, "Turn and face the strange". 360 owners around the world switched on their consoles this week to discover that the Xbox experience had indeed ch-ch-ch-changed and turned very strange indeed, as the latest dashboard update rolled out, bringing the Xbox in line with the Metro front-end used by Windows phone.
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.
The New Xbox Experience is almost upon us, and we've spent the last week playing around with the beta version on one of our office Xbox 360s. Make sure to check out our New Xbox Experience hands-on for a thorough dissection of the dashboard you'll be staring at for the next few years.
Needs change, and for this reason, six months ago, Xbox Live was in trouble. Once the brave, slick and - yes - innovative centrepiece of Xbox 360, it began by offering so much that developers struggled to do it justice. After three years, they had caught up and, in some cases, overtaken it, and the Live team was forced to start making concessions. Rock Band was allowed its own Music Store. Halo 3 was allowed its own matchmaking and party systems. Major Nelson's catalogue of notifications was no longer a hobby, it was a corporate imperative. The plasters and stitches of biannual dashboard updates were unable to contain a once-brilliant interface, voluntarily haemorrhaging uniformity to satisfy developers and gamers for whom it had crossed over from an obstacle overcome to an impediment to fun.
In hindsight - particularly in light of Sony's occasionally cringe-worthy PlayStation Home demonstration the year before, when Jack Tretton showed us his "tricked-out apartment" and Kaz Hirai addressed us from a virtual balcony - introducing The New Xbox Experience with a party of executive E3 Avatars was a gutsy move.
"For the first time ever, a console will be revolutionised through software." That's how Microsoft's Xbox Live, software and services boss John Schappert introduced his segment of the company's E3 press conference. That's how he raised the curtain on Xbox 360's new user interface, due to arrive via a free update to the console on Live and game discs in the autumn ("and not as a beta", one Microsoft representative told us, in a dig at Sony's PlayStation Home).