I just got off the phone with some Microsoft peeps. They walked me through what features the Live update will include and said it will hit around next Friday. Among other things, the update includes major music and DVD playback tweaks, adding the ability to conduct downloads in the background and boot to the console's dashboard.
"This is our first major system update since we launched," said Aaron Greenberg, group marketing manager for Xbox Live. "We've been collecting user feedback since we launched and we put together a very long multi-page list of new features included in this update.
Greenberg added that Msoft is continuing to develop exclusive content and plans to issue two major updates a year from now on.
Here's a rundown of the new features that the upgrade will include:
Xbox Live Marketplace
The Xbox Live Marketplace blade is getting a make-over making it easier to sort through the increasingly bloated offerings that can be found through Live.
The rework will include the addition of a New Media and Entertainment menu with the following categories:
All Media and Entertainment
Movie Trailers and Short Films
Television, Music, Sports and More
Gaming Community Videos
Game Tips and Support Videos
Optional iPod Support.
You might have noticed that "Television, Music, Sports and More" category. Yeah, it caught my eye too. Here's what it means: Unfortunately, it doesn't mean full length prime time shows. Instead they are focusing on short form shows. Like maybe previews of next week's show or the Gears of War special. Music videos will also be here.
"We are continuing to develop exclusive content," Greenberg said, when I pressed him on the issue of the chance that prime time tv or other episodic content might be sold through Live. "Anything is possible, we have the platform for it and the partners in place."
Gaming community also has some amazing possibility, but so far it looks it will be free of your buddy playing DDR. Instead expect to see things like episodes of Red Vs. Blue and tons of machinima stuff. Greenberg added that they hope to one day allow users to upload their own original content in some way.
Another Marketplace addition is the Games option. In that category you'll find newly released downloads, Xbox Live Arcade, demos, trailers and videos for games, played games and the ability to sort through your game downloads by genre.
In general, the Marketplace is getting a lot deeper with a lot more ways to sort and find content, something that certainly comes as a reaction to the explosion of interest to the service.
Background Download Manager
Active Download will allow you to download games in the background as you do other stuff. Yes that means you can play retail games, or any other "full Xbox experience" during a download. The download manager will pause downloads automatically during multiplayer experiences. You will be able to rack up, up to six downloads at a time. Once one is completed it will go to the next. And you can see where everything stands with the Background Download Manager.
"This has been our number one feature since we launched," Greenberg said.
Control Marketplace Videos
The Marketplace video you download can now be rewound or fast forwarded at 2 to 16 times normal speed. You can do this with a controller or the Xbox remote control.
"We realized that people wanted to be able to control that," Greenberg said.
Enhanced Photo Viewing
This will allow you to preserve folders on memory cards when you transfer to your 360 and also tweaks the slidesow.
Music Player and DVD Playback Improvements
On the DVD front, the upgrade will add a feature called DVD Bookmarking, which will allow your 360 to remember where you stopped watching a movie and automatically jump back to it when you slap it back in after a few hours of GRAW. You can even turn off the console or unplug it. They've also tweaked overall DVD performance.
On the music side of things, the 360 will now remember where you were while browsing through your music. Also, now when you launch your music in the background, it will continue to play no matter what you are doing, even launching a new game or hopping around through the blades.
Finally, the update will add an option that you can set-up to allow you to boot up straight into the Xbox Dashboard instead of jumping to whatever CD, DVD or game happens to be in the console's tray when you start it up.
"We think this is going to be the default most people are going to want," Greenberg said.
Friends Status Update
Now, like instant messenger, if you're away and your screensaver turns on (usually after 15 minutes), your Friends status will show you are away. It also will show how long you've been away.
Xbox Live Vision
Msoft will also be loading camera setting to the 360 so the Xbox 360 camera will be fully supported when it hits in September. You might notice some stuff in the menus you can't use, but it's there because it's embedded in the update, you might notice things like a video chat option and the ability to take your picture and use it as your Gamertag image. Woo Hoo!
Here's the best news. This entire update will take less than a minute to download and apply, according to Greenberg and it will be applied directly to the console's flash memory. That means if you don't have a hard drive you will still be able to use the update.
Msoft is still pushing people to connect to get the update, but if you really don't want to, rest assured you can still get it. Greenberg said the update will be added to new game discs in the near future.
"This is the great example of the benefits of a unified service," Greenberg said. "We are soliciting consumer feedback and I think this addresses what a lot of gamers have been looking."
He added that since the 360 launched there have been a whopping 24 million downloads. Yikes.
"Marketplace has really taken off in a major way and we are scaling up for that usage," he said.
Wow, this sounds like a fantastic update, but I can't help but wonder what sort of anti-piracy or chip-mod prevention stuff they may have stuffed in there as well. I guess we'll all see next week.