NXE 2009 Preview Program Impressions

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Can’t a guy just get to bed at a decent hour?  After a somewhat ho-hum episode of FlashForward last night, I stopped my Windows Media Center Extender DVR session on my Xbox 360 and booted back to the dashboard, ready to do a quick check for new content before SleepyTime.  Alas, I was kicked from Xbox Live and prompted for an update!  Almost 2 hours later, here’s what I stumbled across.

As a sidenote, I have NOT tested the Facebook app, Halo Waypoint, or the MSNBC.com news feed.  (In short, I am not a Facebook member, and the other two options are not available as of yet).  Moving on…

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Last.FM: For those of you not familiar with the service, Last.FM is a music discovery service in the vein of Pandora and Slacker.  It allows you to create customized streaming “radio stations” based on artist or keyword (if such a keyword has already been populated on the service, of course).  Last.FM also offers a service called “scrobbling”, which is essentially Last.FM’s term for “listen to what you like and sculpt your listening habits”.  The implementation for the Xbox 360 delivers these features quite effectively.  When I added my Last.FM login info, it had my custom radio stations and preferences downloaded in under 60 seconds.  Choosing one of those stations almost instantly begins to stream that station, complete with photos of the artist playing.  A tap of the “X” button fades the radio station bar into the background, allowing you to navigate through the various options, create new stations, etc.  It is surprisingly fast and smooth.  The major gripe against this feature is that you are stuck in the Last.FM app for your listening experience.  As incredible as the in-app experience is implemented, you don’t get to go cruising about the dashboard, in games, or really anywhere outside of the app and its nifty artist slideshow.  As disappointing as this is, it also relegates this to a far different purpose from  replacing in-game music streaming from your personal music collections.  I can actually see this being a great option for gatherings or really any occasion where you might want to jam out to some tunes while NOT sitting at the 360.  It doesn’t really soothe the wounds inflicted by not having ubiquitous Last.FM support, but more is still more, and I’ll take it over not having any streaming radio.

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Twitter: Not too much to say here.  I posted two tweets from my Xbox 360, and it works just how you might think it would.  The inability to surf to links or see pictures makes the experience pretty limited, but what is here is nice.  I sincerely hope they at least add the ability to see Twicpics, otherwise I can’t imagine being here very often (as it is I open/update twitter about once every 2 months anymore).

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Zune Video: From a technological perspective, this is probably the most exciting of the updates.  This update to the Video Marketplace (launched three years ago this Thanksgiving) allows all video content to be streamed rather than downloaded.  The streaming is also adaptive, meaning that your video stream (if you meet the minimum bandwidth requirements, of course) will start at a lower video quality and ramp up.  I tested the trailer for Caprica, and I had been ramped up from a rough, low-res Youtube-esque quality up to what was called (via a small prompt in the top righthand corner of the info pane) 1080p HD, all within about 28 seconds.  Not bad considering most feature length content has title cards during this period anyway.  The quality was quite good when we achieved 1080p, so I have high hopes that this technology will quickly be adopted by those deterred by the need to download releases before now.  (I was one of those people, in fact; as much as I prefer digital media to physical, I could not recommend the Video Marketplace before now, since it defeated the one major advantage that streaming video could always claim: instant grat).  Keep an eye on this one, folks; I think this is going to be bigger than most folks are giving it credit for.

I’ll try to put out updated impressions of the remaining features as I’m able to test them.  Overall, great stuff coming this November!

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