December’s launch ofthe Metro dashboard has finally propelled 360 into the world of the set-top box.

A good thing? You decide. What’s certain is that the huge volume of media, software and general clutter on Xbox Live has demanded much of this new interface, which in turn demands a fair bit of you. Consider this a survival guide, then, for the console’s latest reincarnation.

SAVE ONLINE

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What you need The new Metro dashboard, a Gold account, and a broadband internet connection.

 

Why do it? Take your saves anywhere and make any Xbox your own.

Cloud saving is one of the best new features of Xbox Live and another good reason to go Gold – among other really useful things, it takes the pain out of playing on other people’s machines. Go to System->Storage->Cloud Saved Games to set it up. You’ll get 512mb of online space that you can use just like a normal memory card orhard drive. Useful.

ALERT FRIENDS

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need The new Metro dashboard, multiple multiplayer games, some friends

 

Why do it? Play the online games you want to play

Hate hanging around waiting for people to get ready? Just nudge to the Beacons tab and choose a game or activity to alert your friends or social network. Xbox will then alert you when they’re sorted. Jump into the Xbox Guide and select Beacons & Activity.

SILENT DASH

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need The new Metro dashboard, an inclination towards peace and quiet

 

Why do it? Make your dashboard STFU

If the sound effects sound a bit too much like someone mouth-breathing in your ear – all that swooshing in and out of categories – you can turn them off by going to Console Settings->Audio->Sound Effects.

CONTROL YOUR XBOX ANYWHERE

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need The new Metro dash, a phone running Windows Phone 7

 

Why do it? Control your Xbox from anywhere in your home

The Windows Phone 7 Xbox Companion App isn’t quite as full-on as PS3’s Remote Play. The app is free to install from the Windows Phone Marketplace. Link it to your 360 via the Console Settings->Xbox Companion menu.

PLAY ANY VIDEO

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need A semi-decent PC, freebie PC application TVersity, and some videos in irregular formats to play.

 

Why do it? Watch popular video formats the 360 wouldn’t ordinarily support.

Xbox 360 and PS3 are in the same boat when it comes to supporting media formats: neither manufacturer is comfortable supporting them all. For 360, though, you can use PC app Tversity (www.tversity.com) to ‘transcode’ any video file before streaming it to 360 for playback. It’s a bit fiddly at first, and requires a wired connection and hefty horsepower for HD, but it works.

USE EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need An external hard drive or USB memory stick

 

Why do it? Take your saves anywhere without the cloud

A USB hard drive or pen-drive is readable by 360, but only if it’s formatted to the FAT32 or HFS+ file systems rather than the more common NTFS. Only Mac format HFS+ allows files of over 4gb.

RESKIN YOUR DASHBOARD

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need The new Metro dashboard, an artistic spirit, some spare cash for new themes

 

Why do it? Take control over your Xbox’s appearance

360’s dashboards have always been a bit counter intuitive when it comes to Theme settings and the like. In Metro it’s buried beneath your avatar in the Social section, with your Achievements.

SEARCH EVERYTHING

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need The new Metro dash, an internet connection, Kinect

 

Why do it? Explore stacks of Xbox content with ease

The world of Xbox is so rich/polluted with promo items and DLC that a search engine is now essential. Enter Bing, which looks up games, videos, apps and other content through pad, keyboard or Kinect. You can filter the results into categories when they appear. It’s the leftmost menu option in the Metro user interface (UI).

BLOCK ADS

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need Admin access to your router or modem, minor tech savvy

 

Why do it? Remove Microsoft’s ads from the front page

Being advertised to on a paid subscription service chafes a little. If it’s bothering you so much that you’d rather just have placeholder pictures scattered throughout the dashboard, the option’s there if your router supports it. Go to your router’s ‘block list’ and add rad.msn.com.

NOTIFICATIONS

 

Click to view larger imageWhat you need Enough friends to make the constant status updates annoying.

 

Why do it? Watch movies and play games in peace

Getting hacked off by irrelevant messages? Let’s turn off those pesky notifications. Bring up the Xbox Guide and go to Settings->Preferences->Notifications, then untick the Show During Movies option. Or, if you want to disable them everywhere, just untick the parent Show Notifications option.