Microsoft has announced that it will debut the so called sixth generation of its Xbox Live online service on Tuesday, October 31, with 85 new features and enhancements, including support for native 1080p games and movies, faster Xbox Live Arcade game list display times, and more options for video playback. The free download will be available to all Xbox Live Silver and Gold account holders, and will not require the use of the Xbox 360's hard drive.
In addition to the faster Xbox Live Arcade display time afforded by the update, the download will also open up the possibility to automatically download newly released trial versions of titles without having to manually search for new releases. The update also changes how Xbox Live Arcade titles are organized, adding sorting options such as “Recently Played” and “By Category.”
Other updates include the ability to compare arcade game scores with the top 10 users on your friends list, an expanded achievements view within Xbox Live Arcade, and the ability to select a “Tell a Friend” option to send a message to anyone on your friends list about a particular game. In addition, the “Play Now” button that is displayed after downloading a new Xbox Live Arcade game will, following the new update, drop a player directly into the game instead of going to the Xbox Live Marketplace.
The update will also allow users to view both video and game content in resolutions up to 1080p, a move obviously made both in preparation for the upcoming release of the Xbox 360's external HD-DVD player, as well as to better position the console to compete against Sony's upcoming launch of the PlayStation 3.
Other video related enhancements introduced by the update include the ability to stream WMV video from a Windows PC running Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Connect; the ability to play video files from data CDs and DVDs, as well as from storage devices like USB 2.0 flash drives and Xbox 360 Memory Units; and added support for 50hz HDTV display modes.
Finally, the Xbox Live download will also assist those utilizing Microsoft's recently announced XNA Game Studio Express, which will allow indie developers and students to develop simultaneously on Xbox 360 and PC. Specifically, the update will let designers test and play the games they create using XNA Game Studio Express on their Xbox 360 when the tool launches later this year. However, Microsoft notes that a separate download and subscription will be required.
For a full list of enhancements and features to be introduced by the update, visit the official Xbox Live website.