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Microsoft hints at "updated disc format" for Xbox 360

Update: Sources indicate 1GB increase thanks to new anti-piracy system

A new Xbox 360 System Update Preview programme has been announced by Microsoft, with the console manufacturer calling for US-based testers to help prepare for an "updated Xbox 360 disc format".

The announcement was made by Xbox Live director of programming Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb, although he provided no detailed explanation of the system update or the change in disc format.

The Xbox 360 currently uses standard dual-layer DVDs, with Microsoft previously having supported a separate HD-DVD drive - but only for movie playback, not games.

Although there have been occasional rumours of Microsoft supporting the Blu-ray format the description by Hryb seems to imply only a software update, possibly one that allows developers to use more of a DVD's maximum storage space of 9GB.

Currently only up to 7GB of space can be used for game data, with many games using far less. A recent Digital Foundry analysis suggested that Alan Wake uses only 2.5GB of space.

Update: Digital Foundry sources suggest that the update does indeed relate to increased storage space on the DVD - with an extra 1GB becoming available. The extra space has been found by reducing a DVD-Video partition containing anti-piracy security.

Digital Foundry also speculates that the free copy of Halo: Reach uses the new disc format and is therefore an intrinsic part of the testing program.

Although the Blu-ray disc format used by the PlayStation 3 allows for more storage, only a few Xbox 360 titles have ever had to be shipped on multiple discs - generally ports of Japanese titles such as Final Fantasy XIII and Lost Odyssey. Although Dead Space 2 is a more recent Western example.

Xbox 360 owners wanting to help out as testers are asked to visit the Microsoft Connect site and complete a short survey. Hryb indicates that the company is looking for "multiple thousands of participants", who will be thanked with a copy of Halo: Reach and "other possible rewards".

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David Jenkins