Xbox 360 owners who fire up their console today will be prompted to download the new Summer 2009 dashboard update. Among the highlights of the new software is updated Netflix functionality ("Party Watch" mode and the capability to automatically add new and popular movies and TV shows to your queue directly through the onscreen interface), more avatar customization options, and larger selection of games on-demand (digital download of full Xbox 360 titles formerly available only on disc). A full list of features can be found at the Xbox Web site.
On the Netflix front: Microsoft is now touting the fact that the 360 is the only gaming console on which Netflix's streaming videos are available. Such an exclusive deal would seem to quash rumors of the service popping up on the PS3 or Wii. (Of course, the PlayOn software continues to be a work-around.) Meanwhile, users upset with the fact that they're still unable to search the Netflix library through the 360's dashboard will be happy to hear that search may be added in the coming months.
Microsoft touted the integration of Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm for the Xbox at its E3 media conference earlier this year, but those features won't be added until later this year. The same goes for Zune Video Marketplace, which will replace the Xbox's existing (non-Netflix) video offerings and tie in with the new Zune HD, also due in the fall.
We had no problem updating our Xbox 360 to the new dashboard earlier this morning--just turn it on, and you'll be prompted for the automatic update (assuming, of course, that it's hooked up to an Internet connection).
For an in-depth look at the new dashboard, check out Dan Ackerman's preview.