3 things I like and dislike about Xbox Live

Zune Video

In November 2009, I purchased my first Xbox 360. A year later I bought the Kinect bundle, and I have been more than pleased with my purchase. Recently, PlayStation Network outages got me to reflect about my decision to choose Microsoft's game console -- to appreciate how important Xbox 360 and Xbox Live are to my TV watching habits.

It's by no means picture-perfect entertainment, but awfully good. Here, I share what three things make Xbox and Xbox Live a central element in my living room, and what three things I think Microsoft should change.

What I like

1. Zune Music/Video. I have a Zune Pass that gives me access to the entire Zune music catalog at any moment. At first I wasn't sure I would like a music subscription service but I have to tip my hat to Microsoft on this one. They have done a fantastic job with user experience on Zune. The desktop software is amazing and in my opinion is the best music software on the planet.

The Xbox experience is quite nice as well. I remember one night spending about two hours with some buddies listening to playlists of music from the 90s, remembering old songs and experiences associated with them. It's really easy to find music and to create your own playlist. Also the animations that play on the TV screen while the song is playing are top notch. This is something that is very useful for parties.

Christmas weekend, I spent quite a bit of money purchasing and renting Zune movies. Microsoft has made the process way too easy. Click a button and the movie immediately starts streaming. My friends can't believe how easy it is. Whenever I don't find a movie on Netflix and can't wait for the disk, I will rent it from Zune.

2. Kinect. The Kinect features work really well and they're practical beyond game play. I actually use the voice feature of Kinect to tell my Xbox to resume from pause. I think natural user interface (NUI) has a future in televisions (contrary to what others may believe) -- not as something that people will use as often as a remote control. But I definitely find it useful to talk to my Xbox especially when I cannot find the remote.

I really like Video Kinect. The feature allows you to use the Kinect to video chat with others in your friends list who also have the Kinect. Anything that lets me video chat with friends and family whom I cannot see very often is a winner in my book. I like the fact that the camera finds you and focuses in on you without you having to move in front of it. That shows Microsoft is paying attention to the details. This is key to providing a solid user experience.

3. Netflix and ESPN. The is absolutely my favorite aspect of Xbox Live. My Xbox 360 is on every night at home. I'm catching up on episodes of "30 Rock" and enjoying every minute of it. For TV shows, Netflix has some good stuff. But I also understand that Hulu Plus is better in terms of the shows they offer (It's available starting today, and I haven't gotten home to try it). Hulu Plus offers TV shows Netflix does not, although it is better when it comes to movies.

ESPN on Xbox is another huge plus. Being able to catch college games (football and basketball) as well as others sport and news updates on demand is very convenient. And the Kinect features are also very good and work well. I find myself using them lots.

Xbox Live has other features, including social networks like Facebook. It's a good interface for viewing photos, especially at a party or a gathering of friends.

What I Dislike

As great as Xbox and Xbox Live are, there are some areas that Microsoft needs to address.

1. Zune Music playlists. Online playlists and the disparity between Zune.net and Xbox playlists is a bit ridiculous. Zune.net allows you to create one major playlist. It would be nice if the one I create online can be seen by my Xbox. Why is there no easy synchronization? If someone knows how to do this please let me know in comments below. Microsoft needs to add the ability to create online playlists that are available on Xbox, Windows Phone and the Windows 7 PCs.

2. Gimmicky Netflix Kinect. This feature is very gimmicky and insulting (you can only navigate a small list of movies at the time of this article). It seems to be a total waste of software development time. Kinect should be expanded to include the entire Netflix catalog. I don't even know why I bothered to use it.

3. PC to Xbox connectivity. Windows 7 has built-in DLNA capability. However, the only way to "play-to" an Xbox is if Windows Media Center is open and running on the PC. I love the play-to feature but feel it can be streamlined to overcome the need to have Media Center open. Microsoft recognizes the importance of having access to media across three screens (PC, Phone and TV) but they have some work to do to remove some of the limitations.

There always seems to be something to do on Xbox and Xbox Live. If there was a major Xbox Live outage, like one going on right now at PlayStation Network, it would be the equivalent of taking away my television for two weeks. Microsoft has built a very compelling service in Xbox Live but I still feel it has some work to do to if it wants to dominate the market. I'd love to hear from you about what you like and dislike about Microsoft's game console and Xbox Live. Sound off in the comments.

If you're a Betanews reader and would like to express your point of view more broadly (e.g., meaning so it's not lost in comments), please email joewilcox at gmail dot com. We want to post more stories from readers like Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson is a user interface developer specializing in the user experience (UX) of .NET-based web applications. He has been working in some form of web development and graphic design for 14 years. He loves technology in general, particularly that of Apple, Google and Microsoft. He is a Betanews reader.

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