Xbox Live Arcade
I'll start off with the most immediately visible change: Xbox Live® Arcade. It's got a brand new look, plus some nice new features. There's a new logo, and the buttons got a facelift, too.
Xbox Live Arcade gets more than a facelift.
Check these changes out:
Fast enumeration of games: Remember how long it took for all your games to show up on the My Arcade Games button? That's all in the past, because now it's lightning fast. (Hey, that rhymed.) You'll see your game count zip to the full number in an instant, and the listing itself after you select the button is also really quick.
Auto downloads: There seems to be no end to the games coming to your Xbox 360 console. To keep up, you can set up your console to automatically check for and download trial versions of any new Xbox Live Arcade games. Pretty sweet, huh?
Sort options: With games piling up so quickly, you need a better way to find them. You can now view your games with two new sort options: Recently Played and By Category.
Achievements, leaderboards, and Tell a Friend: Enhanced achievement lists and friend leaderboards for Xbox Live Arcade games are now available. Get full details for achievements and view a top ten friends leaderboard for each game right in Xbox Live Arcade. Then there's "Tell a Friend." Select this from the game info screen to send a buddy a message about the game.
Play now: The Play Now button that you see after downloading a game now launches the game rather than just taking you to Xbox Live Arcade. Now that's attention to detail.
HD DVD, DVD, and Video
A huge amount of work has gone into video playback for HD DVD, DVD, and videos. A lot of it was behind the scenes, but there are a few visible changes.
As you may know, the Xbox 360™ HD DVD Player is due out soon. A big part of this update is to support the HD DVD player, and the DVD player also got a little boost. These are a few things to look for:
Disabled Xbox Live notifications while watching movies.
Improved countdown timer.
Zoom controls for letterboxed content.
Support for 50-Hz HDTV modes.
Playback for videos also received an update. Video now shares playback controls with the DVD player, so you get new things like skip controls and zoom modes. Plus, you also get:
Screen saver active when videos are paused.
Visual and performance improvements.
Previously, the Video area on the Media blade of the Xbox Dashboard only played back videos from your hard drive. No more! Stream video from a PC, portable device, or Memory Unit.
The Video area now looks very similar to the Music and Pictures area, which already let you stream music and pictures from various sources. Select your console, data disc, computer, or portable device as the source of video content.
Windows Media Player 11, Zune, and Windows Media Connect
Part of the change to the streaming story is the addition of Windows Media Player 11 and Zune™ as supported PC streaming software. If you install WMP 11 or Zune, it takes over for Windows Media Connect, and you manage connections from within the player itself (look for Media Sharing in WMP 11 or the Zune software). You can, of course, continue to use Windows Media Connect if you don't install WMP 11 or Zune.
I just thought I'd bubble this one up because 1080p display mode was under discussion recently. As it turns out, Xbox 360 can indeed do 1080p. You need a TV capable of this, but if you're lucky enough to have one, you're set.
I got your true HD right here.
The Future Is Now
The November update includes a lot of stuff for new products that'll be available over the next few months. Here's a sampling:
New accessory support: If you've been living under a rock lately, let me be the first to tell you that three new accessories are coming to Xbox 360. There's HD DVD, which I mentioned already, plus the Xbox 360 Wireless Headset and Wireless Racing Wheel. Naturally, the console has been updated to support these. If you get a wireless headset, you'll notice a new display in the Xbox Guide for battery strength of the headset, too.
Zune: You may also have heard something about an upcoming portable media player called Zune. Yup, the update includes support for that, too. There's support for streaming from the Zune software, which I mentioned previously, plus there's support for connecting the device itself to your console. The screens should be familiar—once you plug it in, select the device in Music, Pictures, or Video, and away you go.
XNA Game Studio Express: Wow, we're chock full of new stuff these days, aren't we? Finally we come to XNA Game Studio Express, a way for all you budding game developers to create games for Xbox 360. You'll be able to access these games through the old Demos button, which has been relabeled, surprisingly enough, to Demos and More.
You'd think that would be enough, but no. There's even more to look forward to:
Improved translations for several languages.
Visibility of content size in memory area.
Improved multiplayer host migration.
Improved Xbox Live Vision support.
Improved voice chat quality.
Expanded Family Settings for unrated movies.
New credit card validation (CCV) field in signup and purchase areas.
This is not an exhaustive list of changes, but it should give you an idea of the highlights. For more info about this update, check the November 2006 Xbox Live Update and Complete Dashboard Update Feature List.