Xbox 360 Kinect update hands-on

The much-anticipated Xbox 360 dashboard update has hit around the world today, and while Kinect compatibility is one of its stand-out features, the whole experience has been given a bit of a polish.

For starters, the entire graphical user interface is now cleaner. As hinted at in July, the design of the menu system has changed to flat-on squares, similar to Microsoft's recently launched Windows Phone 7 tiles. It is similar in structure as before, but is, perhaps, more refined.

Take the opening screen, for example: where it used to have a green animated ellipse behind the Xbox logo, now it is plain and white. More pure, if you like.

As are the tiles on the My Xbox bar.

Obviously, this is the same as the International versions also rolled out. However, as Netflix has little or no presence in the UK, that's one US addition that is missing. But, instead, the Sky Player app has been completely overhauled.

To be honest, we thought it had vanished altogether, and were starting to worry about our account. Thankfully, though, it popped up on the dashboard at around 10.30am GMT, or, at least, a link to download it again did.

As the Sky Player software has been completely re-jigged, subscribers will need to download and install it again. It does, however, remember log in details, so it's a very quick and painless experience, and worth it too. The whole menu system within has been expanded on, offering more options and, seemingly, better integration with community TV watching.

Also, the party room has been given a make-over, seating you in a penthouse apartment overlooking a city. We're not sure, at present, whether the originally touted themed rooms will become available, but this is a nice change.

Another thing we noticed in the new Sky Player is that the streamed video quality is now automatically optimised depending on your broadband speed. Hopefully, that will result in better bit rates, and therefore better pictures, in future.

As for the main Xbox 360 dashboard, its major new addition is the Zune Marketplace. Although the video streaming functionality was branded Zune before, the new portal offers a larger range of music and video content to buy or stream using a Zune Pass (Microsoft's answer to Spotify).

The music section even allows you to queue songs in order to create your own playlists, and offers the Smart DJ function where the Xbox 360 will intelligently mix tracks.

And because the Zune Marketplace has been running for a while, there's a huge selection to choose from.

Essentially, the majority of this update (which takes no more than 3 minutes to set-up) is little more than a welcome lick of paint, certainly for those without a Kinect (which is all of us until 10 November), but the Zune Marketplace and Sky Player updates are well thought out and more than just aesthetically improved.

Downloaded it yet? Like the new look and changes? Or have you found any bugs? Let us know in the comments below...