Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tech advice to Gordon Brown
When British prime minister Gordon Brown visited Obama last month, he received a set of 25 classic American movies on DVD as present. Which of course wouldn't run back home in the UK due to the US having a different regional code. And while most of us are unlikely to receive a similar gift from Obama, it is certainly possible that we pick up a cheap DVD on a trip to the US, and find ourselves confronted with exactly the same problem. Or in reverse for Americans who for some reason buy a DVD in Europe. So what could Gordon Brown or us lesser folks do?
DVD players are actually technically able to play DVDs from all regions, most just have been disabled by some code. And that code can be turned off, if you know how, usually by entering some code via your remote control. My DVD player is region code free due to a code I happened to find on the support site of Amazon, of all places. Unfortunately searching for a region free code often involves visiting the seedier side of the internet; better update your virus software first, and be wary of possible scams, asking you to pay for a code. Some cheap DVD players sold are even region code free, you just need to be lucky and find a tech savy salesman in your local store.
It becomes much easier if you decide to watch the DVDs on a computer instead of on your TV. Computer DVD drives aren't hardcoded for just one region, you can change their regional code up to 5 times before you're stuck. If you have several computers, or one computer with several drives, you can simply use one drive for European DVDs and another drive for US DVDs. Changing the region code is as easy as just inserting the DVD into the drive and trying to play it. A window should pop up asking you whether you want to change the region code, and how many changes you have left. If you want to watch all DVDs on the same computer DVD drive, you have to install some software to make the drive DVD region free. I won't provide a link, but you can find such software as freeware or shareware from various sites. The only disadvantage is having one more application running in the background.
I have a lot of US DVDs, for the simple reason that most TV series I like to watch come out on DVD in the US first. And in the last years the exchange rate was often favorable to buying DVDs in dollars instead of euros. I set up a game corner with a TV and PlayStation 2, and bought a copy of DVD Region X from Amazon UK, so I can watch DVDs from all regions using the PS2 as DVD player. I guess if I can find a solution to this problem, so can Gordon Brown. Although one would hope that if Obama and Brown are now aware of how annoying regional codes are, there might be some political pressure to remove them. The producers of DVDs claim that regional codes are necessary for copyright protection, but in fact the measure is pure protectionism and a marketing ploy: The same DVD is sold in different countries for very different prices, and regional codes prevent people to reimport DVDs that are being sold much cheaper elsewhere. Not exactly a highlight of free trade.