New Firmware Update Bricks Old 360s, Microsoft Offers Free Replacements

Microsoft recently released a firmware update for the XBox 360, but has since found that it prevents a handful of older consoles from running disc-based games. (XBox Live Arcade downloads are presumably unaffected). The company states:  "Following a recent update to our system software, we have become aware of an issue that is preventing a
very small number of Xbox 360 owners from playing retail game discs. This issue manifests itself a as a unique 'disc unreadable' or 'disc unsupported' error on the screen. We are also able to detect this issue over Xbox Live and are proactively reaching out to customers that may be impacted to replace their console."

MS hasn't revealed details on which XBox 360's are affected, but we're betting the problem is being caused by a specific optical drive model. The XBox has included drives built by a number of manufacturers. Even within a single product generation, not all models have the same brand optical drive. Currently there's no information on whether or not the issue is confined to a single type of XBox systems (original Xbox's that suffered from the RROD, Arcades, Elites, etc).

Those lucky enough to be impacted will receive a free 250GB XBox 360 S (currently priced at $299) and a year of free XBox Live. The update in question adds support for Microsoft's new XGD3 disc format. The new standard changes how data is stored on XBox dual-layer DVDs. Currently, only 6.8GB of the 7.95GB of storage on a disc (85 percent) is available for a game. The remaining 1.15GB is reserved for DVD video and anti-piracy measures.

The XGD3 standard removes that partition, thereby increasing the amount of storage space available by ~ 1GB. The anti-piracy measures aren't gone, but Microsoft has evidently found a way to store them differently. According to XBox firmware hacker Commodore4eva, the new discs are part of Microsoft's anti-piracy offensive. C4eva weighed in with the following when asked about XDGA3:  "MS will introduce xgd3 – this will add more ap checks, cvi (content integerity) checks, increase the disc size and adds a new layer for protection issues – all in the 20500 sdk! bring it on!"

Indeed. Image quality between the XBox 360 and PS3 varies depending on the game, but there have been some titles that looked markedly better on the Sony system due to the inherent limitations of the XBox 360's optical storage capacity. The new format won't erase that difference, but it should give XBox 360 developers more room to include better textures and more detailed geometric meshes.