Ok, this has been sitting in my que of 'crap I need to write' for a while so I'm finally forcing it out the door.
I've gotten to spend a bit of time tooling around with the new (and much needed) Xbox 360 interface upgrade over the last weekend and last week. Anyone out there with a 360 is probably already aware of the now rather old Xbox 'Blade' interface. While a fairly simple and somewhat effective the analogy is starting to wear thing due mostly to the fact that over the years both the number of features available on the Xbox and the amount of down loadable content available through the Xbox live system.
Some out there have been relatively luke-warm to the new NXE UI and I sympathize with many of their grievances. The blade system in many ways worked just fine, however actually getting to content you wanted to see could be a bit tricky as the interface was far slower than it should have been. In this area I will applaud NXE, it's light years faster than the blade system ever was, and even when a page isn't entirely populated yet the information is generally usable if a bit diminished as the data catches up with the user.
The avatar system (or mii60's as I've taken to referring to them) are interesting if entirely useless. I spent a little time on mine for the hell of it, it was fun putting the character together but I can't see myself spending any money to actually personalize the character in any way. The avatars are far better than the ones you can get for the Wii in many ways, but then again the Xbox is pumping out at 1080i (I don't have an HDMI model :( ) so the picture had better look good in comparison.
My new 360 persona:
The other major area of interest for me was the NetFlix streaming and this is actually what pushed me over the edge in getting a gold account for Xbox Live. So I guess from Microsoft's perspective it did what they were hoping it would do. I actually just signed up for NetFlix because of this feature as well. I'd considered using a Roku box to do the same thing the 360 does when I initially looked into this. A few of my friends have the Roku device and it seems to work wonderfully for them. However I already have a 360 and it can stream HD unlike every other NetFlix device out there, making it a better option in my opinion (thou reportedly the Roku will have HD streaming shortly). The major downside being, the Roku uses 5 Watts of power on or off, the 360 uses more than that, probably in either state. I've had a number of times where it's paused my video and re buffered at a lower resolution due to connection speed issues (thank you Comcast...) and it's crashed my console twice but nothing too horrid has happened so far.
This brings me to my single biggest gripe with the interface revamp. Advertisements. There's a channel literally dedicated to them called 'spotlight' which doesn't seem to function until you log into Xbox live. After which, whenever you return to the main screen area it dumps you into spotlight requiring you to re-navigate to the area of the system you actually wanted to be in. This would be slightly less shocking if I wasn't paying for a gold subscription (as for instance an alternative way to be allowed to play games online), however this is the place you are dumped regardless of your membership status. It's the one major issue I have, and I find it more than a bit offensive that a console I've bought and paid for (and continue to pay for through games, Xbox live purchases and my gold account) would have to have advertisements as well. I've got a number of friends with PS3's and I've got a Wii. Neither of those systems feel the need to add advertisements to anything they are doing online. The fact that MS can get away with this without much public outcry either speaks to the fact that they are still pretty well crushing the competition in overall console desirability or the general complacency of American consumers.
The feature I haven't tested yet is the installing a piece of software to the hard drive due to the fact that I've only got a 20 Gb drive and the feature seems somewhat useless to me. The only time I'd find it to be truly useful for is when I go out and rent a game, write it to the console, return the game and play. Then delete the game when I'm done with it and don't want it on my system any more. The systems even with the 120 Gb hard drive really don't have enough space to leave a ton of games permanently installed on the system; at least not if they are anywhere near the capacity of the disks that are sold on (like say... Mass Effect).
The Blue Pill:
Overall the NXE dashboard update is a great step in the right direction for the 360 console, there's a few things that need to be done yet but from a general usability angle it appears to work great. NetFlix streaming also works great overall so if you like the movie selection on the streaming site it's worth the investment.
The Red Pill:
While the NetFlix streaming works great Sony's Columbia Pictures has pulled all of it's content from being available for streaming to the 360 (and only the 360). Why they've done this is more likely to be anti - competitive than any legitimate licensing issues, but I'm sure it's not going to last too terribly long. The software has also crashed my 360 twice, which is up from never crashing before the software update. While this isn't too terrible it's rather annoying especially when it looses my spot in the playback. Another nuisance spot is that some series make a single dvd's worth of episodes DVD only even thou they allow you to add them to the instant streaming system so they show up as 'DVD only' when you try to play them :: awesome ::. Another continuing gripe (from the day the system came out) is that they still are making you use their drive chassis with the system despite the fact they are nothing more than laptop sized SATA drives, grow up Microsoft and stop monetizing the storage like it's the 1990's. One last thing to bare in mind for better or worse, the Spotlight channel. May it burn in hell.