Entertainment Search: This is the vertical search engine that has been promoted most, in particular with its new xRank factor for ranking the popularity of celebrities. While it may seem like a bit of a gimmick, Microsoft says that about 40% of all search queries fall into the four verticals they have targeted, with 10% being celebrity searches. Although this feature may only appeal to certain demographics, Microsoft's aim with the new Live Search is to increase usage among the users it already has through MSN and Windows Live.
This vertical search engine also targets films and music, which benefit from image and video search updates:
Image Search - This has some nice UI tweaks, and results can now be filtered by size (Small/Medium/Large/Desktop). The feature to highlight here is the scratchpad, which operates in a similar fashion to the scratchpad in Live Maps. Search results can be dragged to the sidebar to form a collection for future reference. Though this has been available for sometime, it remains a US only feature, something the Live Search team need to address rapidly.
Video Search - The best way to see just how cool the new previews are is to try it for yourself. Mouseover on any of the video search results to get a short preview clip complete with sound (you can mute by clicking the speaker button to the right of the video). As with Image Search, search results can be filtered, this time by the duration of the clip (Short/Medium/Long) and organised in a thumbnail or list view. The previews have been made using Flash, not Silverlight, so it will be interesting to see if and when the team chose to switch over to the new platform.
Overall the entertainment search vertical boasts some nice features, which are clearly visible when you search for a music artist. My choice of the Foo Fighters showed the new Live Search was at least level with Google in this area, if not ahead, mainly through better presentation of the summary section that precedes the first search results.
Shopping Search: Getting into the new Shopping Search engine is a bit of a challenge, as the product you are looking for may not be one of the products that is in the shopping index. (Nokia and HTC phones only brought back chargers/headsets for instance, not the actual phones). For a single product a summary is displayed featuring price range and overall rating, and where several products match the terms you have searched for, the most popular products will be displayed, but only with a picture. Note the feedback Microsoft is prompting users for above the search results, which at one click is now much easier to give than it has been previously.
The detailed product results page these results link to is particularly useful, showing key characteristics ratings as well as customer reviews from a range of different sites, not just MSN Shopping. Clicking the various characteristics in the left hand column changes the main view to show the comments for this particularly area, without reloading the page.
While Live Search has made some signficant progress in both Entertainment and Shopping searches, the restriction of certain features to US only means that non-US searchers will see very little improvement for the time being. In particular the video search feature is US only, though if your Live ID is set to US you should be fine (or you can add &mkt=en-us to the end of your address bar).
If you haven't yet been updated to the new Live Search, you can try it temporarily by clicking this link.
Microsoft, Windows Live, Search, Live Search, Entertainment Search, Shopping Search, Video Search, Image Search