The Evolution of the Xbox 360 Dashboard

On November 22nd, 2005, Microsoft released its second home gaming console, the Xbox 360. The 360 debuted a whole year earlier than both the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Having the advantage of the lead, Microsoft was able to experiment with various customization options for the consumer’s individual consoles. The ability to customize the way your console looked with various themes to fit the front and sides of it was something very different for home console users. For instance, when I purchased my 360 in that first month, the system came with a customizable faceplate of Call of Duty 2 (one of the strong launch titles released that month). In system, the dashboard had the ability to have multiple profiles on your console with each user being able to customize the dashboard to exactly fit their own unique style. The 360 launched with a horde of different themes but only a couple of them really stood out as being slick and stylish.

Aside from the default styles, there were premium themes available for purchase on the XBOX Live Marketplace. At the time (and still today) certain special collector’s editions of games would also come with a free redeemable code which allowed users to download a free premium theme or gamer picture that was related to the game purchased. Originally there were five tabs/sections for the 360 menu, known at the time as “blades”. They were the Marketplace, Xbox live, Games, Media and System. In scrolling from left to right, each section would have a different-colored background signifying its own unique area but you also had the option to change all sections to one background color as well. Below is a sample of how the 2005-2008 Blade Dashboard looked.

In 2008, the gaming scene had changed dramatically. The Xbox 360 now stood alongside the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii, which were both in their second year as well. Microsoft announced and showed off the next new look for the 360 at E3 ’08. A new dashboard titled the “New Xbox Experience” launched later that fall of 2008. This new dashboard added numerous new features including an all new UI and the ability to create personalized Avatars, essentially mini characters of yourself. Avatars were going to represent each gamer by customizing their body shape, facial features, hair, clothes and accessories. Additionally, gamers were are able to download free clothes and props for their avatars, as well as purchase new props and gear via the XBOX Live Marketplace. The menu system changed as well, featuring a more 3D style vibe with more options and sections.

NXE: New Xbox Experience System Software Changes 2008 

Here is a list of 14 features added to the update for 2008 for the Americas.

  • A completely redesigned UI with a navigation system similar to that of Windows Media 2.
  • Center new “pop-up/in-game” Live Guide, using a redesigned version of the blades interface.
  • New “sound effects” menus only, notification sound remain the same.
  • The ability to preview themes before setting them.
  • Ability to disable notifications, new messages, chat requests, mute the notification sound, etc.
  • Ability to change to QWERTY keyboard in place of an alphabetical keyboard

The Xbox Live Changes

  • Xbox Live Party which allowed for eight-person chats and image sharing.
  • Fully customizable avatars for use in upcoming games and via Xbox Live.
  • Access Xbox Live Marketplace on a PC via Xbox.com with the ability to queue downloads to the Xbox 360.
  • The ability to watch Netflix on an Xbox 360. User must be in the US and a Gold Xbox Live member to access Netflix.
  • Increases the “Active Downloads” queue limit from 6 to 40

Other

  • The option to install games to hard drive in order to decrease load times and to make the hardware quieter.
  • General information from Xbox Live regarding the game in the disc tray.
  • “Quick Launch” for launching games on the console.
  • Ability to remove games with 0 Gamerscore from the profile’s “played games” list
  • Upon starting any Xbox 360 game, users will be notified if any of their friends and/or party is playing the same game.
  • The ability to turn on “Auto Start,” an option to set whether you want the disc to run/or stay idle when the disc tray closes with a game or media disc inside. By default, it’s set to “on.”

Two years later, Microsoft announced a new dashboard set for the release of the Microsoft Kinect, which was set to launch in November of 2010. This dashboard added a fresh new user interface with a touch of silver. The update also features a brand new “boot up” animation for when you turn on your Xbox 360. That same year, Microsoft changed their logo with a fresh new style that I personally found to be more original and artistic as opposed to the old style. In keeping with this the new brand and style, it was scattered all across the 2010 update in menus and titles.

Kinect Dashboard/System Software Changes 2010

Here is a list of 15 features added to the update for 2010 for the Americas.

  • Adds the ability to install game updates to the HDD.
  • Adds a visual refresh to incorporate elements of Microsoft’s “Metro” design style.
  • New boot screen animation with redesigned Xbox 360 orb and ribbons.
  • Improved avatars to 2.0 versions with human-like proportions.
  • Improved HDD load time.

Xbox Live Changes

  • Adds ESPN as an app download via Xbox Live.
  • Updates Zune features by adding Zune Music and Zune Pass functionality.
  • Updates Game Marketplace UI with a Metro-style redesign and easier navigation.
  • New codec for Xbox Live voice chat that improves communication quality.
  • Better connection when using a wireless network adapter.
  • Improved Netflix integration by enabling to search the entire Netflix catalog from within the console.
  • Improved “toast” notifications. One example being “Friends using this app” now shows when a friend uses Facebook instead of it referred to as a “game” when you start it.

Kinect Changes

  • Adds a motion menu specialized for Kinect under system settings.
  • Adds Kinect functionality for LAST.FM and Zune
  • Adds “Video Kinect” as an app download via Xbox Live. This app lets players video chat with the Kinect sensor bar.
At E3 2011, Microsoft announced their latest update for a system that was now in it’s sixth year. The update was released on December 6th, 2011 and with it came a complete new UI and a fresh new take on a platform that has had more than half a decade of changes and enhancements. The update included YouTube, Skype, Bing Search, Cloud Server Support, Crackle, and many other enhancements that pushed the system to a more modernized interface and improved features that pushed the envelope for social gaming and media.

Dashboard Update 2011

Here is a list of 12 features added to the update for 2011 in the US.

Design Changes

System Software Changes

  • Cloud storage for game saves and Xbox live Profiles.
  • Facebook Sharing.
  • Stereoscopic 3D for games & experiences that support it.
  • Support for dual play.
  • Updated Standard and Kinect Dashboard with Full Voice.
  • Bing on Xbox
  • YouTube on Xbox 360 with Bing Search support.
  • Beacons
  • New toast notifications

Xbox Live Changes

  • Expanded Kinect Voice support.
  • Netflix UI changed
  • Netflix parties removed

Xbox Live Television Changes

  • EPIX – United States
  • ESPN on Xbox LIVE – United States
  • Hulu – Japan
  • Hulu Plus – United States
  • Netflix – Canada and United States
  • TODAY (MSNBC) – United States
  • Live television on Xbox 360 with Bing Search support.
Which dashboard was your favorite one? Sound off in the comments below!