Definitions

region code

DVD region code

DVD video discs may be encoded with a region code restricting the area of the world in which they can be played. Discs without region coding are called all region or region 0 discs.

The commercial DVD player specification requires that a player to be sold in a given place not play discs encoded for a different region (region 0 discs are not restricted). The purpose of this is to allow motion picture studios to control aspects of a release, including content, release date, and, especially, price, according to the region. Many DVD players are or can be modified to be region-free, allowing playback of all discs.

Region codes and countries

Region code Area
0 Informal term meaning "worldwide". Region 0 is not an official setting; discs that bear the region 0 symbol either have no flag set or have region 1–6 flags set.
1 Canada, United States; U.S. territories; Bermuda
2 Western and Central Europe; Western Asia; Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland; British overseas territories, French overseas territories
3 Southeast Asia; South Korea; Non-mainland China (Hong Kong)
4 Oceania; Central and South America; Caribbean; Mexico
5 Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Africa, Central and South Asia, Mongolia, North Korea.
6 Mainland China, Hong Kong
7 Reserved for future use (found in use on protected screener copies of MPAA-related DVDs and "media copies" of pre-releases in Asia)
8 International venues such as aircraft, cruise ships, etc.
ALL Region ALL discs have all 8 flags set, allowing the disc to be played in any locale on any player.

DVDs sold in the Baltic States use both region 2 and 5 codes. DVDs sold in Japan use the region 2 code while Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan use the region 3 code, with Hong Kong sharing region 6 for releases after the reunification. Region 0 (playable in all regions, except 7/8) is widely used by China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. DVDs in Latin American Spanish use both the region 1 and region 4 codes. Most DVDs in India combine the region 2, region 4, and region 5 codes; Disney discs contain only the region 3 code.

European region 2 DVDs may be sub-coded "D1" to "D4". "D1" are United Kingdom–only releases; "D2" and "D3" are not sold in the UK and Ireland; "D4" are distributed throughout Europe.

Any combination of regions can be applied to a single disc. For example, a DVD designated Region 2/4 is suitable for playback in Western Europe, Oceania, and any other Region 2 or Region 4 area. So-called "Region 0" and "ALL" discs are meant to be playable worldwide.

The term "Region 0" also describes the DVD players designed or modified to incorporate Regions 1–6, thereby providing compatibility with most discs, regardless of region. This apparent solution was popular in the early days of the DVD format, but studios quickly responded by adjusting discs to refuse to play in such machines. This system is known as "Regional Coding Enhancement".

It may be difficult for American companies to enforce their copyright rights in the countries in the Region 5 area, and thus they may release Region 5 DVDs earlier than Region 1 DVDs to encourage consumers to opt for a legal version, rather than a pirated copy of a DVD screener. Many of the countries in the region 5 area were historically either incapable of or unwilling to uphold American copyrights. In many of the countries in the Region 5 area, war or extreme poverty make intellectual property rights a low-priority interest for the governments. See also R5 (bootleg).

Region Code Enhanced

Also known as just "RCE" or "REA", this was a retroactive attempt to prevent the playing of one region's discs in another region, even if the disc was played in a region free player. The scheme was deployed on only a handful of discs. The disc contained the main programme material region coded as region 1. But it also contained a short video loop of a map of the world showing the regions, which was coded as region 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The idea was that when the disc was played in a non-region 1 player, the player would default to playing the material for its native region. This played the map, which was impossible to escape from, as the user controls were disabled.

However, it is easy to work around the scheme. A region-free player tries to play a disc using the last region that worked with the previously inserted disc. If it cannot play the disc, then it tries another region until one is found that works. RCE could thus be defeated by briefly playing a "normal" region 1 disc, and then inserting the RCE protected region 1 disc, which would now play. RCE caused a few problems with genuine region 1 players.

As of 2007, many "multi-region" DVD players defeat regional lockout and RCE by automatically identifying and matching a disc's region code and/or allowing the user to manually select a particular region. Some manufacturers of DVD players now freely supply information on how to disable regional lockout, and on some recent models, it appears to be disabled by default. Programs such as DVD Shrink are also capable of removing RCE protection, provided the operator knows what the region of the disk actually is. If the region is specified correctly, the copy will play in any region.

Purpose

There are many purposes that region coding can achieve, but a primary one is price discrimination. Price discrimination is the economic principle of demanding a higher price from buyers who are willing to pay more. Price discrimination is especially applicable to movies, because the marginal cost of selling one copy (or viewing) is quite small, giving the seller great flexibility in pricing. There is great disparity among the regions of the world in how much a person is willing to pay for a DVD, and region encoding allows a publisher to sell a DVD for less money in the regions where the demand is low and more where the demand is high.

Another purpose is controlling release dates. One of the traditions of movie marketing that the advent of home video threatened is the practice of releasing a movie (to theaters) later in some countries than in others. The threat from video tape was muted by the coincidence that television broadcast standards, and thus video tape formats, were for historical reasons regional. But apart from region coding, the DVD format is meant to be playable everywhere.

Legal concerns

Region code enforcement has been discussed as a possible violation of World Trade Organization free trade agreements or competition law. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned that DVD players that enforce region coding may violate their Trade Practices Act. The government of New Zealand is also considering a similar ruling. This means that all DVD players sold in those territories have to be region-free.

Movie publishers misused region coding when they released older material with full region coding—there being no requirement, per the stated cinema-blockout justification provided, to restrict sales to certain countries. There are concerns, voiced by the European Union, that region coding was solely an attempt to enforce price differentials.

Implementations of region codes

Standalone DVD players

Usually a configuration flag is set in each player's firmware at the factory. This flag holds the region number that the machine is allowed to play. Region-free players are DVD players shipped without the ability to enforce regional lockout (usually by means of a chip that ignores any region coding), or without this flag set. This was partly a result of a landmark ACCC case in which the High Court of Australia ruled that region lockouts breached fair trade and market competition practices.

However, if the player is not region-free, it can often be unlocked with an unlock code entered via the remote control. This code simply allows the user to change the factory-set configuration flag to another region, or to the special region "0". Once unlocked this way, the DVD player allows the owner to watch DVDs from any region. Many websites exist on the Internet offering these codes, often known informally as hacks.

Computer DVD drives

Older DVD drives use RPC-1 firmware, which means the drive allows DVDs from any region to play. Newer drives use RPC-2 firmware, which enforces the DVD region coding at the hardware level. These drives can often be reflashed with hacked or Australia and New Zealand (hardware region coding prohibited by law in these countries) RPC-1 firmware, effectively making the drive region-free. However, this usually voids the warranty.

Software DVD players

Most freeware and open source DVD players ignore region coding. Most commercial players are locked to a region code, but can be easily changed with software.

Other software, known as DVD region killers, transparently remove (or hide) the DVD region code from the software player. Some can also work around locked RPC-2 firmware.

DVD Discs

One can circumvent the region coding of a DVD disc by burning a copy that adds flags for all region codes, creating an all-region DVD. DVD backup software can do this, and can usually remove Macrovision, CSS, and disabled user operations (UOPs) as well.

NTSC, PAL/SECAM

Because of digital technology these systems are slowly being phased out. Having to do with analog television, these had an effect like regional coding. In actuality, they were the systems used in various parts of the world relating with how analog television signals were sent and received. Video in the UK and parts of Europe using the PAL system ran video frames at a rate of 25 per second. While in the US, Canada, and Japan, using the NTSC system, the video frames ran at a rate of about 29.97 per second. NTSC was set in this manner because it had less wave distortion with the AC voltage frequency of 60Hz when an analog television set was plugged in. SECAM is a French system that helped improve video efficiency in signal transmission for PAL system televisions. It was adopted in some areas, and was somewhat used as a region filter in parts of Europe, although many people would buy set top converters to view both PAL & SECAM transmissions in areas where it was used in such a method.

Since North America and Japan both used NTSC, different regional codes could be used to separate the 2 regions: the US using Region 1 coding and Japan using Region 2. Europe also uses Region 2 coding. These artificial limitations were not present in earlier LaserDisc and video cassette technology. Using the older LaserDisc or video cassette system, one could purchase video media in Japan and easily view it in the US. Another example is playing DVDs from Mexico and Australia on a DVD player that is flagged for Region 4, despite the different formats between the two countries (Much of Latin America uses NTSC [including Mexico], while much of Oceania [including Australia] uses PAL).

On a side note: The audio for NTSC and PAL were along the same track in magnetic video cassettes, it is not uncommon to place a PAL cassette in an NTSC cassette player (or NTSC cassette in a PAL player) and hear the audio clearly (although at incorrect speed) with distorted video. Region encoding in digital players helped block this as well.

With newer-style digital televisions and the use of variable frequency and resolution monitors, NTSC, PAL/SECAM are really no longer necessary. With the advent of internet and access to digital video online, region encoding is finding hurdles of its own and may slowly fade away the way NTSC, PAL/SECAM are.

Note that many people confuse Regional Coding with a form of Encryption. In reality, Regional Coding is an even cruder form of imposing geographical limitations on physical media traveling across borders, whereas the CSS copy protection used on DVD was designed to prevent the disc's content being copied - not to regulate where in the world it is played. As such, references to "Region Encryption" are a misnomer.

See also

References

External links

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