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Hands-on with the Xbox 360's upgraded Dashboard

Hands-on with the Xbox 360's upgraded Dashboard

Microsoft rolled out its first major update for the Xbox 360 system's user-interface Dashboard yesterday, and we've taken a few of the 125 new features for a spin.

The biggest new addition is undoubtedly the download manager. With the previous version of the Dashboard, choosing to download an item monopolized the system's resources, meaning that you couldn't watch or play anything else--you were literally stuck watching the progress meter fill. Thankfully, that problem has been remedied and then some. Not only can you choose to watch a movie or play a game (offline only--online games will pause the download manager), but you can queue as many as six items. While it's a great new feature, keep two things in mind: Firstly, you might want to consider turning off notifications, unless you enjoy having your Geometry Wars session interrupted every 6 seconds with notice that your Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2 trailer has finished downloading. Secondly, the ability to download multiple items at one time may lead to temptation to download some of the less appealing trailers and demos. You're going to want to fight that urge--they put that Aeon Flux trailer at the bottom of the list for a reason.

The music and movie playback on the 360 is a little more seamless with this latest upgrade. Your tunes will now play without interruption when you boot up a game or enter most menus, and the choice to play sequential or random tracks from your hard drive, PC, or connected device will stay saved to the system. It's a small tweak, sure, but if you're like me, you were probably starting to get sick and tired of hearing that first song on your playlist every time you restart the system. The 360's DVD player received a new onscreen time display--now with time remaining!!--along with the ability to continue playback from the point at which you left when exiting to the dashboard or starting up a game. One can't help but think some of these additions may be integrated into the system's upcoming HD-DVD adapter. Downloaded movie and game trailers can now be fast forwarded and rewound in the same manner as a DVD, but there were some serious syncing issues when attempting to resume normal play. Thankfully, the addition was pretty superfluous, as most downloadable movie clips fall in the two- to three-minute range. As long as Microsoft tightens hard drive playback before the company starts pimping downloadable episodes of Viva Piñata, everything should be all right.

There were a few more noteworthy tweaks made--the option of booting the system's Dashboard on start-up instead of the inserted disc is a godsend, as lazy gamers such as myself will now escape punishment for leaving that copy of Rumble Roses XX in the tray when younger relatives stop by to play Zuma. Speaking of lazy gamers, the 360 will now change your status to Away if the system is left idle long enough to enable the screensaver. Your online friends will now be able to tell when you're ignoring them and when you're simply too much of a sloth to press the off button. Some future-ready enhancements were made, too. An Xbox Live camera setup option was added, as was the ability to attach a photo to any instant message. Yeah, that's gonna get real inappropriate real fast.

For the complete list of additions, including the enthralling Korean virtual keyboard enhancements, check out the official list from Microsoft.