Xbox's Major Nelson
coming as part of Microsoft's Xbox 360 dashboard update this autumn, many of which represent a significant upgrade in functionality.
The headline features have already been given plenty of airtime. Firstly, Xbox Live Avatars will replace Gamercard images and offer a fully customisable digital self, ala Nintendo's Mii system. There's also Xbox Live Primetime, a new game type that runs in real time on the Xbox servers and offers real prizes to contestants.
However, there are several more significant upgrades included in the autumn update. Interestingly, for the first time gamers will be able to install games on the Xbox 360 hard drive, resulting in no disc swapping, faster loading times and reduced disc drive noise. It also opens up the possibility of very large games (such as the Blu-Ray filling Metal Gear Solid 4, for instance) not needing to run from multiple discs.
The new Xbox Guide interface will also be accessible at any time, meaning that even if you're playing a game or watching a film, you can call up the guide and immediately launch other media without dropping back to the dash.
In addition, the Xbox Live Marketplace will become accessible through Xbox.com, allowing people to log on to the network via PC and purchase content that will be automatically downloaded to their Xbox 360.
The new Xbox Live Party System is another interesting feature that will allow up to eight friends to group up online and stay grouped even when migrating from game to game. It will even allow for communal movie watching.
Finally, tech buffs will be delighted to see specialist resolution support added for those using 16x10 monitors with sizes such as 1440x900 or 1680x1050 pixels, either through HDMI or VGA.