Microsoft is now accepting applications from US Xbox 360 owners to join in a System Update Preview program. The goal of the program is to test a new disc format which is rumored to increase the storage capacity of Xbox 360 games by 1GB, a gain of nearly 15 percent.

Microsoft’s decision to use standard dual-layer DVDs for Xbox 360 games has long been questioned by the gaming community. With just 7.95GB available on such a disc — and as it turns out, only 6.8GB of that actually available for game data storage, the other gig having been restricted to DVD video and security — the storage capacity of Microsoft’s games lags far behind that of Sony’s PlayStation 3 Blu-rays. Single layer Blu-rays are capable of storing 25GB of data, while dual layer PS3 games, such as God of War 3, have a generous 50GB of data storage available.

Sources close to Digital Foundry claim the partitioned portion of Xbox 360 game discs that is currently reserved for video is being reduced or eliminated, leading to the gain in storage. However, that partition is believed to be near the center of the disc, and data located there would be the slowest to read. What is gained in storage may be lost in speed.

The System Update Preview program was announced yesterday by Microsoft’s Major Nelson. Interested applicants can sign up here. As an incentive to join the program, Microsoft is offering a free copy of last Fall’s Halo: Reach, doubtless on one of the new format discs. Given the large number of DVD drives that have been used in various Xbox 360 revisions over the years, Microsoft clearly needs to test the new format disc on as many systems as possible.

What will this move ultimately mean for consumers? Of course, more storage is always better, but again, this doesn’t begin to bring Xbox 360 discs to parity with PlayStation 3 Blu-rays. Nonetheless, clever developers will no doubt find ways to make use of the added storage, the most likely focus seeming to be on higher resolution textures for Xbox 360 games.

At the same time, there is always the possibility that such an update could potentially cause problems, particularly for older Xbox 360 systems. The Xbox 360 has long been notorious for the dreaded Red Ring of Death, most recently rumored to be linked to Kinect, and changing the format of the data stored on Xbox 360 game discs is no minor update. Here’s hoping that, when the new format rolls out, it does so without a hitch. Be sure to stay tuned to Game Rant for more information as it develops.

What are your thoughts on a new format for the Xbox 360’s game discs? Do you think the extra GB of storage will be impactful? Are you concerned that the update may contribute to the failure of older Xbox 360 systems?

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Source: Digital Foundry, Major Nelson

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