While the big story, understandably, with the recent Xbox 360 update was the retirement of Microsoft points, what seemed to get lost in the shuffle was the changes that came with Xbox Music. Microsoft’s music service made some significant changes with this update that are both welcomed and perplexing. While I’m a huge fan of the Xbox Music ecosystem, I find some of the pieces in place a bit puzzling. However, overall, this a much welcomed set of changes that helps to keep everything on par between Windows 8/RT, Windows Phone 8, Xbox 360, and — soon — Xbox One.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the major changes you can find when you update your console and fire up the Xbox Music application.
You’ll initially find that there are now only three pivots to the application: MY MUSIC covers everything about your personal collection. The new update now allows the app to see your cloud collection (that you maintain using the Xbox Music app in Windows 8/RT or Xbox Music Web). What’s perplexing is that when you go into your cloud collection view, you are shown both available music and unavailable music. I, personally, wish it would just show me the music that I can actually play. EXPLORE is your chance to look at the overall marketplace. Here’s where you’ll also find personal suggestions, which used to have its own pivot in the previous version. MUSIC VIDEOS speaks for itself. With an Xbox Music Pass you can stream all of the music videos available to you on the console. I like the feature, but since a lot of these videos are old and not in HD, it doesn’t really take advantage of the new TV sets, HDMI and the like.
So, now that you have your cloud collection available to you, one of the benefits is that when you create a playlist you can add to it the music you actually own. Why is this important? Currently, in Windows Phone 8, when a music playlist you create gets synced (via the cloud) to the phone, the phone will only show songs on that list that are in your personal collection. So by being able to use your cloud collection, you can ensure that your cloud playlists are as intact as possible — at least until they update Windows Phone 8, accordingly.
Another benefit is now you can sit back and listen to a random set of your cloud collection. However, the console limits this ‘play all’ mix to about 1000 songs or so. The other irritant is that this is a mix of both songs that are available and songs that are not available. Songs that are not available are, rightly, skipped, but what could look like a playlist of 990 songs could really be about 753 because a chunk of them can’t be played. Again, it would just be easier if only available songs were displayed.
Something else you’ll notice is that you can search both the personal collection and marketplace separately. Each pivot has its own search. This is significant when you want to find that song or album you own to add to a playlist vs getting back every possible thing under the sun. I wish this particular feature was available in the Xbox Music Web, but I have to think that sort of search separation is coming soon.
Here’s some other quick things to notice:
- The radio stations you create using Xbox Music on Windows 8/RT are also available (via the cloud) on Xbox Music 360
- There still isn’t a way to seek through a song. You can only skip forward or backward
- When you’re in the marketplace, you can add albums/songs directly into your cloud collection
- You still don’t have the ability to purchase music, outright, from the console
- Smart VJ still exists. It is now in the Music Videos pivot and called Video Mix
Again, I like the changes that have been made to Xbox Music on the console. My only wish is that Xbox Music would get upgraded across the board at one time. It sucks when features are being added in one area and it takes another area another few months to finally get on par. That can create a very disjointed experience for users. And something definitely needs to be done to address how users can handle the chunks of their music collection that’s in the cloud, but unavailable. I won’t even open that Pandora’s Box (cause I can vent on that for hours). Suffice it to say that it’s one of the big bottlenecks to what can be a premium music experience.
So give Xbox Music a new look, and if you have any questions you can feel free to shoot me a note on Twitter.