The new Xbox 360 Experience was released yesterday and I got to spend a little bit of time playing with it. Overall I think the new look is OK, but it seems harder to get to important things like the DVD tray and XBL profile information. In place of that easy access are a bunch of ads trying to peddle marketplace wares. Pretty crappy trade off.

Don't get me started about how lame the new avatar system is either. In a blatant ripoff of the Wii's Mii feature, the 360 now makes us setup an avatar to be associated with our XBL account. If I wanted to play a cutesie, made-for-4th-graders console I'd had bought a Wii already.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="150" caption="IANster's Xbox 360 avatar"]IANsters Xbox 360 avatar[/caption]

The only thing that saves the new Xbox 360 Experience from being a total waste is that we can now stream Netflix Watch Instantly content to our 360. I tested this with a couple of different shows and had mixed results. First I watched the movie Enchanted, and was disappointed to see that it was presented in 4:3 Full Screen mode, and was only in 2 channel stereo. Yuck. The second title I watched was the first episode of Jericho. Thankfully this was at least in wide screen, but again it was only in 2 channel stereo. Both titles were noticeably compressed and looked worse than even watching them on a bad satellite TV channel.

While this probably isn't the fault of the Xbox 360 or Microsoft, it still isn't the best experience, and I doubt that I will be paying for XBL Gold Membership if this is the only feature worth using and it remains half-baked.

UPDATE: Here is more info on the Netflix stream encoding process.