Microsoft unleased the latest update to the Xbox 360 dashboard this week. It's called New Xbox Experience or NXE for short, and it's as radical a departure from the previous version as it could possibly be.
The biggest change you'll see is the avatar. You can now create a digital version of yourself, right down to your eyebrows and moles. This is the way your Xbox friends will see you when they look at your profile. As fun as they are, I found that they're not that accurate - my avatar is much thinner and better looking than I am in real life, no matter how large I try to make him. Maybe that's not a bad thing after all.
One enormous benefit that NXE brings is the ability to create "parties", groups of friends that stay together verbally no matter what they're doing on their Xboxes at the time. When you join a party, you can talk to the other party members even if they're in one game and you're in another. My favorite part of this piece is that once you're in a party chat, you can't hear the other folks in the game you're playing. Some people might think that's antisocial, but if you've spent any time online with your Xbox and a headset, you know that there are some people out there who just shouldn't have a microphone. Enough said about that. However, this new feature isn't all peaches and cream. I found last night that I kept losing one or more folks from my party and I'd have to re-invite them. There may be a couple bugs in the new system and we will probably see a patch coming soon.
Another useful feature that NXE delivers is the ability to install your favorite games to the hard drive of your Xbox. I installed Call of Duty: World at War onto my hard drive and now the game loads more quickly and the machine has quieted down. No more noise from the DVD drive as it seeks out the data it's looking for while the game is being played. Of course, this won't work if you bought the Arcade edition of the Xbox 360, which doesn't come with a hard drive.
Speaking of hard drives, you'll need one to get the maximum benefit from NXE, but not to worry. Microsoft has a program in place to help people upgrade their Xboxes. You can read about that here, where you'll find a form you can fill out with your Xbox serial number. If your Xbox qualifies by its lack of storage, you can get either A) a free 512MB memory card or B) a 20GB hard drive for $19.99.
So if you're on Xbox live, swing by and tell JammerX19 hello. Just don't laugh at his avatar.