Nothing has impacted the home entertainment world quite like DVD. Players and movies have been flying off the shelves worldwide as prices keep falling and consumers keep buying. With superior picture and audio performance DVD has spurred growth in home theater exponentially in recent years. Entire rooms in many homes are now reserved just for the enjoyment of home theater. However, along with DVD's worldwide success, comes its dirty little secret: region coding (also referred to as region lock).
DVD Region Code Designations
The DVD world is divided into six major geographical regions, with two additional regions reserved for specialized use.
To keep it simple, this means that DVD players and DVDs are labeled for operation on within a specific geographical region in the world. For example, the U.S. is in region 1. This means that all DVD players sold in the U.S. are made to region 1 specifications. As a result, region 1 players can only play region 1 discs. That's right, the DVDs themselves are encoded for a specific region. On the back of each DVD package, you will a find a region number (1 thru 6).
The geographical regions are as follows:
REGION 1 -- USA, Canada
REGION 2 -- Japan, Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Greenland
REGION 3 -- S.Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Parts of South East Asia
REGION 4 -- Australia, New Zealand, Latin America (including Mexico)
REGION 5 -- Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Africa
REGION 6 -- China
REGION 7 -- Reserved for Unspecified Special Use
REGION 8 -- Resevered for Cruise Ships, Airlines, etc...
REGION 0 or REGION ALL -- Discs are uncoded and can be played Worldwide, however, PAL discs must be played in a PAL-compatible unit and NTSC discs must be played in an NTSC-compatible unit.
The end result is that DVDs encoded for regions other than Region 1 cannot be played on a region 1 DVD player, also, players marketed for other regions cannot play region 1-stamped DVDs.
The Reasons For DVD Region Coding
Why does DVD region coding exist, you ask? According to what the public is being told, such coding is a tool to protect copyright and film distribution rights (in other words, movie studio profits).
Movies are released in theaters in different parts of the world at different times throughout the year. That Summer blockbuster in the U.S. may end up being the Christmas blockbuster overseas. If that occurs, the DVD version of the movie may be out in the U.S. while it is still showing in theaters overseas.
In order to preserve the financial integrity of the theatrical distribution of a particular film, it is not possible (under normal conditions) to have a friend in the U.S. send a DVD copy of the film to the country where it is in theatrical release and be able to play the DVD on a player there.
Region Coding - The Good and The Bad
Depending on who you are, region coding can be considered a blessing or a curse. If you are movie studio executive, this is great, not only do you reap maximum profits from the theatrical releases, but also from the DVD releases for your film. However, if you are a consumer wanting to see a movie that is available on DVD in your relative's or friend's country but not in yours, you may have to wait quite a while.
However, another suspected rationale for region coding is beginning to emerge, possible price-fixing of DVDs depending on region. Although this is yet to be legally proven in court, if proven to be true, Australian and European courts may just put the heat on Hollywood and manufacturers to discontinue region coding as a marketing practice. New Zealand has been trying to elminate DVD region code restrictions in that country.
In addition, for those consumers that live in Europe, Australia, and Asia, there is an abundant market for so-called Code Free DVD players, which are essentially modified versions of stock DVD players in which the region coding function has been disabled.
With the magic of mail-order and the Internet, these players are widely available, even if not totally legal. For the fortunate owners of these players, DVDs can be purchased from any region.
However, as a reaction to the popularity of Code-Free DVD players, "Hollywood" has instituted another layer of coding on region1 DVDs called RCE (Regional Coding Enhancement) which prevents selected region1 DVDs from playing even on Code-Free DVD players.
The NTSC/PAL Factor
There is additional hitch in this madness. Since the world is also divided into the NTSC, PAL, and SECAM video systems ( as outlined in my previous article: Who's Your PAL? ), the consumer may need a multi-system TV to access DVDs pressed in one of these systems. Although this is difficult in the U.S. market, where all video is based on the NTSC system, many consumers in Europe and some other parts of the world do own multi-system TVs that can view DVDs pressed in either NTSC or PAL.
Home DVD Recording
With the advent of DVD Recorders and DVD Camcorders for consumer use, the question comes up as to how this is affected by DVD Region Coding. The good news is that since DVD Region Coding is a commercial application, any DVD recordings you make on a consumer-based DVD recorder, DVD camcorder, or even a PC, are not Region Coded. If the DVD you record made in the NTSC video system, it will be playable on DVD players in countries that use that system, and the same for PAL; their is no further region code restriction on home recorded DVDs.