The New Xbox 360 Experience In-depth Review

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New Features: New Xbox Guide and Play from Hard Drive

The New Xbox Guide
The new Guide, instead of being an area to access only a few select options, has now become a one-stop quick launching area. You can instantly access the Guide via the Xbox button on your controller, giving you control over your games, media, and settings. It is immediately noticeable how much smoother the new layout is compared to the old system. Upon closer inspection, not only is it so much smoother, but it essentially is a modified version of the entire old Xbox 360 dashboard.

 
 
Old. vs. New

The Guide offers five blades: ‘Your Gamer Tag’, Marketplace, Games, Media, and Settings. Upon pressing the Xbox button on your controller, you are greeted with a blade named after your gamer tag. From here, you can check messages, chat, launch the game in your drive, or check on your friends. Further inspection reveals access to the game and video marketplace through the Marketplace blade. The Games blade gives you access to your achievements and game library. While at first, this seems like nothing more than a way to see what games you’ve played, it is much more powerful.  From the Games blade you can launch any game in your library that is located on your hard drive. Tired of Gears of War 2? Instantly access your favorite Xbox Arcade game and fire it up without skipping a beat. That’s not all unlike the previous marketplace, where if while playing a game, you wanted to purchase a related item, you’d have to search through the marketplace to find it. By going to your games library, you can directly link to downloads, expansions, and other information, along with your achievements for that game.

The Media blade gives you access to your Music, Video, and Picture Libraries, as well as Windows Media Center.  However, to access any of these, you have to leave your game and access the dashboard. You can, however, choose the ‘Select Music’ option and directly choose tracks off your hard drive or IPod while you play. Finally, the Settings blade gives you access to all your settings such as your profile, family controls, etc. Most of these, similar to the Media blade, cannot be accessed in game, however, the benefit of having these in the guide takes out the middle step of having to go back to the dashboard, and will directly jump to where you want to go. Baring the rest of the update, the Guide itself is a substantial, and much appreciated upgrade.

Play From Hard Drive
There has been much speculation and hope about the ‘Play From Hard Drive’ option. Many imagined swapping games with friends, building up an enormous library of all their favorite games. While it is true you can do this, games can only be played when the accompanying disk is in the hard drive. What is the hype behind this then? Well, by copying disks to your hard drive, it offers a number of benefits. First off, load times are supposed to be faster. In testing this, unfortunately, the difference between load times of disks copied to the hard drive, and those left to play straight from the disk was almost negligible.  And while in some cases there was a nice jump in speed, there were also times when the load times actually increased.

One such instance is in Halo 3 multiplayer; loading maps actually takes longer as they’ve been optimized to run from your disk. There are, however, other noticeable benefits making this a welcome improvement. When the disk is copied to the hard drive, apart from a cursory check to make sure the disk is in the drive, the optical drive does not spin. This significantly decreases the noise of the Xbox 360, especially in Xboxes produced with the new manufacturing processes, whose fans are much quieter than previous generations. Similarly, as the disk is not continually spinning, accidental movement of the Xbox while it is running will have a much lower chance of scratching the disk, as well as prolonging the life of your optical drive.

 

If you decide to go the route of playing from the hard drive it’s a short process.  Simply go to your game library, select the game, and then the option ‘Install to Hard Drive’. Next time you launch your game library you can play the game from the hard drive.
 


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