Xbox 360 Dashboard Update Spiffs Up Netflix, Adds On-Demand Games

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Microsoft has rolled out its latest Xbox 360 Dashboard update, adding new features to its flagship game console and refining the Xbox Live service’s experience. Premiere new features in the update include refined Netflix video streaming, but most of the buzz is about Games on Demand, enabling users to select and purchase new games right from the console, with svelte versions of the games downloaded directly to consoles’ hard drives from Xbox Live.

Games On Demand puts a range of full-featured Xbox 360 titles for sale directly from Xbox Live: instead of trotting out to a retail store, customers can purchase full versions of the games, which download to the console’s hard drive via a broadband Internet connection. Game prices range from $20 to $30, and take up anywhere from 2.5 to over 6 GB of storage space: users with 20 GB hard drives in their consoles might have to think long and hard about Games on Demand purchases—although customers can delete games and re-download them again without re-purchasing. Gamers can also download their titles to any console they’ve logged into their their Gamertag, making it easy to set up a grudge match at a friends house without transporting a physical disc—assuming your friend has enough broadband. Microsoft says it plans to add additional titles every Tuesday, so the roster of Games on Demand should expand over time; games can be purchased with either a credit card or Microsoft Points.

Folks who subscribe to both Netflix and Xbox Live will see improved playback even under strained network conditions, and new features let folks see what their friends are watching and find content more easily. Microsoft is also touting its Netflix partnership as an "exclusive" feature now, which industry watchers are interpreting as a sign Microsoft has locked Netflix streaming into the Xbox platform and the service won’t be appearing on the PlayStation 3 or competing game consoles any time soon.

The update also includes user ratings for game content in the Xbox Live Marketplace, new avatar props, and a new Avatar Marketplace coming August 13 where Xbox 360 users can buy premium items to trick out their avatars—including branded apparel.

The update is available now via Xbox Live; Microsoft also promises it will be offering integration with Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, and Zune Video in future Dashboard updates.

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