Flip on your Xbox 360 today and you might find an update waiting for you to download and install. Microsoft releases updates to its video game console every fall and spring, and we’re well into October so this refresh shouldn’t come as a giant surprise. Nor should most of its features since the most prominent ones were highlighted at this year’s E3. But let’s recap. With nearly every update comes a refreshed dashboard with user interface tweaks; overall the design and layout largely remain the same, but you’ll notice that each hub now houses more tiles. Some of them are tailored to your gaming habits, recent activity, and content ratings, while others are merely advertisements. You can create a personalized folder of “pinned” items; you can pin your favorite games, movies, TV shows, and music to an easy-to-access destination on the dashboard. Bing search has been enhanced to allow for search by genre; for example, you can speak to your Kinect and say “Xbox, Bing sci-fi” and related content will show up. And last but not least there’s the introduction of Internet Explorer; Xbox nabs a web browser. Where’s Xbox SmartGlass? Microsoft is holding off on the second-screen experience until Windows 8 launches; when it does users will be able to control their consoles via tablets and smartphones and interact with content in new ways. (Learn more about SmartGlass here.)
Here’s how the rollout will work, according to Xbox’s Major Nelson. “To ensure a stable release, this will be a gradual deployment across subscribers and regions over the course of the next week. Our initial deployment will reach approximately three million consoles worldwide, with additional users being updated over the course of a couple weeks.” So there you go.
Announced separately from this fall’s dashboard update is the rollout of Xbox Music. With Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 on the horizon, Microsoft wants to forget the Zune era and start anew with a cloud-based music service that extends across the desktop/tablet OS, the phone OS, and the home console. Currently Xbox Music is available on Xbox 360. Users will notice a newly branded destination to browse, stream, and download music. In the Music hub there’s an Xbox Music tile that takes you to Microsoft’s collection of 30 million songs. To access the content, users must sign up for an Xbox Music Pass that goes for $9.99/month or $99.90/year. With the Pass, you can stream individual songs and full-length albums, ad-free. A free 30-day trial is offered if you feel so inclined to dip your toe.
When Windows 8 ships later this month on October 26, Xbox Music will be the destination for music consumption from Microsoft there, too. Unlike 360 owners, desktop/tablet users will have free unlimited, ad-supported access to the music database. Purchase an Xbox Music Pass and the ads go bye-bye; and also with the Pass, you’ll be able to save songs for offline listening. A feature called Smart DJ allows you to personalize a radio station based on your favorite artists. Since Xbox Music is a cloud-based service, your entire music collection (including playlists and Smart DJ data) is synced across devices including your desktop/tablet, phone, and console. Start streaming a song on your Xbox, pause it, and continue exactly where you left off on your tablet. You get the idea. Feel the urge to download a song for keeps? Purchase it in the Xbox Music Store, available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
Speaking of Microsoft’s phone OS, Xbox Music will begin to rollout to WP8 devices as they ship after the OS’ release later this month. Xbox 360’s rules apply to WP8 devices–an Xbox Music Pass is required to access streaming content. To reiterate, free ad-supported streaming is only available to Win8 users. Microsoft notes that they plan to expand the service to other platforms (think Android, iOS) sometime in the future.
In review: your Xbox is about to be injected with new life, and Microsoft is ready to take on the likes of Apple, Amazon, and Spotify with the launch of their very own cloud-based music streaming service and storefront. If you’ve got an Xbox, you can explore Microsoft’s new offerings today; for the rest of you it will come baked in Windows 8 when it releases in just over a week.
[Via MajorNelson; Microsoft]