Xbox Live Fall Dashboard preview: From 'nonsense' to Metro

Terry Farrell, senior product manager of Xbox Live entertainment, is pretty excited about the new Fall Dashboard update. As the individual who partners with first and third-party video content providers, he's the go-to guy to talk to about Microsoft's future plans for offering video content. Too bad he couldn't get too specific with us.

So why the new Dashboard? "We had a lot of feedback from our users who wanted to see the current Dashboard evolve and had problems discovering content," Farrell said. "We saw the success of Kinect -- 10 million of those sensors had been sold -- and it kinda was the intersection where we started thinking about having a unified design, whether you had a controller and/or a Kinect. That's kind of where we landed with this."

And it really is a union of the two. Using the controller, you can access the different destinations up top like Games or Music or Apps; to highlight different panes in each of the promotional areas and basically get around like you used to. Or, using Kinect's voice recognition, you can simply say a category and have the Xbox take you there -- in English Canada, the US and English UK, the initial launch territories for voice recognition and search. Microsoft will roll out compatibility to other territories when it can.

"If you're familiar with Windows Phone, we have a design language within Microsoft called Metro. And so the look and feel is very consistent with what you'd see on the phone." So what you get is a more tiled look, doing away with the vertical stacking and chunky, huge images of NXE. "That nonsense is gone," Farrell said of the Kinect Hub -- at any time, if your Kinect is hooked up you can wave your hand and navigate around the Dashboard that way. It all looked very seamless, though there were a few graphical bugs and no Beacon functionality in this build.

The most exciting part about the new Dashboard update -- aside from the Live TV stuff, which Farrell wasn't budging on -- is the implementation of Bing. Whether using a controller or the cooler Kinect implementation, you can instantly access a variety of content across several different areas of Xbox Live. Farrell started off by saying, "Xbox, Bing Batman," at which point several listings showed up. Underneath each were a rating and an icon, denoting whether it was a TV show, a movie or a game. By saying something like "Xbox, show games," you'll be able to parse the results even further. These results spanned Netflix, Hulu Plus and Zune -- and in the case of that last one, Kinect voice recognition can be used all the way through the point of purchase.

The Quick Launch functionality of NXE is also evolving to encompass more than just a handful of games. Now, you'll have a shortcut into your active history, which will list your recent apps as well as recently played games. If you watched Netflix yesterday, it'll be right there in the Quick Play section of your home area.

Naturally, the question of YouTube came up, but the build I was able to check out didn't have it in there. For Farrell, the priority is really getting Bing where the company wants it and promoting the console's streaming content. "For us, right now, the goal is to focus on more of that long-form content: music, movies, games and TV shows," Farrell said. "Lower down on the list is something like YouTube. YouTube is kinda crazy with the amount of titles people can name and just throw up there. We can't guarantee we'll have all of that stuff day one, but we'll be continually evolving the Dashboard on the back end to get it there."

Although I couldn't see Beacons in use, Farrell did talk about some of the functionality of Facebook sharing. We already knew that, but one thing that really interested me was Achievement sharing for, uh, obvious reasons. At the outset, users can highlight Achievements and share them on Facebook with a custom message. Microsoft will also empower developers to add functionality in the SDK, allowing them to implement the Achievement posting feature. Of course, that's cause for concern: Uncharted 2's Twitter functionality was probably the most well-known game to abuse social networking. "You can ignore your friends on Facebook," Farrell joked. "We'll also have an option to disable it."

Sadly, Farrell wouldn't allow me to take any pictures or video of the new Dashboard in use nor would he disclose any information on Live TV partners in the US at launch. He did promise that a beta would be open to us next month. We'll be able to take all of the screens and video we want then, and we'll be sure to throw up some in-depth walkthroughs as soon as possible.

The still-unnamed "new dash" update hasn't been dated, and is currently slated for a tentative "Holiday 2011" release.