XBox 360’s UI gets a facelift

The user interface in the XBox 360 was ahead of the game when the console shipped in 2005, and XBox Live did set the standard for the online experience on consoles. But since then, Sony has come out with a beautiful new interface for the PlayStation 3 and even Nintendo managed something nifty for the Wii.

So today, Microsoft announced it’s getting with the program and plans to release “New Xbox Experience” or NXE on November 19th. The announcement came today at the Tokyo Game Show. NXE will be a free download for all XBox 360 customers, eventually launching in 26 countries.

NXE is a total overhaul of the UI, dumping that clunky, full screen tabbed interface for something sleeker and more accommodating to widescreen. Now you switch between menu items similar to Vista’s Aero task switcher, since Vista was such a rousing success.

You can flip through menus like a rolodex and this will likely give Microsoft the flexibility to add as many top level menus as it wants. Currently, the XBox 360’s dashboard is limited to five top level menus.

One of the new menu items will be for Netflix support. Microsoft is adding the ability to stream over 10,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix direct to your 360. It’s a good thing the XBox 360 sports a bigger hard drive these days. When it launched, it had a 10GB drive. Today, 60, 80 and 120GB drives are available for the console.

Another feature taking advantage of the larger hard drives is the ability to copy whole games to the hard drive. The hard drive will be faster and quieter than the DVD drive in the console, which will be popular with a lot of gamers.

For chatting and other online social activities, Microsoft is replacing the flat, static pictures people use to represent themselves with avatars, allowing for humanoid figures instead of an icon.

As part of this, Microsoft will introduce Xbox Live Primetime, a gaming channel for Live members. Microsoft will launch with an adaptation of the TV game show “1 vs. 100,” where one person competes against 100 others for prizes.

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