Xbox 360 to get new disc format

Microsoft is testing a new disc format for the Xbox 360 that should mean more room for game content. It will also allow what are intended to be improved anti-piracy measures.

The new format will still involve the dual-layer DVDs as opposed to a larger capacity format such as Sony’s Blu-ray or the unsuccessful HD-DVD. However, at the moment Xbox games can only access 6.8GB of the available 7.95GB on a disc. The rest is currently allocated to a DVD-Video partition that is mainly used for the sections of the disc used to check for unlicensed copying.

While Microsoft hasn’t specifically said so, it appears the firm is trying out a new anti-piracy technique that doesn’t require the partition. As a result, the full 7.95GB will be available for games.

The company has recruited “multiple thousands” of Xbox Live customers in the US to test the new format (it’s already filled up its testing panel and is not taking new applicants) who’ll each receive a copy of Halo:Reach.

While again this hasn’t been officially announced, it does appear logical that the game will be on a disk running the new format. Eurogamer notes that the original version of Halo:Reach took up 6.6GB, so it’s not clear if the test will involve the game having additional content, or if the data will simply be spread out across the disk so that some of it is on the freed-up space.

The same site also points out that there’s a good chance the uncovered space will be in a physical location on the disk that is slowest to read, meaning developers may have a trade-off between increased capacity and slower read speeds. Of course, it might be workable to intentionally use this space for content such as menus or cut-scenes where a read delay is at least more tolerable.

Whether the new format will make a noticeable change to games is questionable. It’s possible that in a few cases a game currently split on two discs will not fit on one. What’s more likely is that developers who currently squeeze a game on to a single disc will be able to do so in a more efficient and effective way.