Tobold's Blog
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.
What I don't get (from that Telegraph link) is why the White House guy snickered. It was their screw up :P

And yeah, I'm with you. Region coding on DVDs is very lame. It is easy enough to buy DVD players here (UK, and presumably rest of Europe too?) which will play multi-region. But you have to know to ask for that when you buy it.
Yeah, my DVD player is cracked and I'll only buy a replacement when I'm sure the next one can be cracked.

I still cannot figure out how Region coding has managed to stay with us for so long. Why are we putting up with this idiocy? Not only DvDs, but games too. Bought the original Nintendo DS mainly because it was region free, now the new model that comes out is region locked. What the hell? Isn't that a step backward?
I agree that it's a crazy system, and that only one company (Sony) should have a key interest (being both a manufacturer of DVD players as well as a content distributor). I wonder whether it's linked to the relationship between the two sides. We recently had the format war (don't ask me who won!), Blu-ray vs something else - you'd have to think that the distributors picking one format over the other would be a critical factor in the outcome. So perhaps the manufacturers kept the region encoding to win support for their preferred format?
Selling the same or slightly different good for different prices is very common in our economy. Mostly you don't realize t, but it's everywhere. The luxury car, the extra good coffee that has not been picked by children etc .. My printer has an built-in module that makes it print slower that without it.
That's because the company wants to sell the original printer for a higher price (there are people who pay 10€ more to buy the better printer, and still wants to sell me a printer who almost only looks at the prize (and compares!) and doesn't really care about the printing speed.
Most often it is market failure! ..

But sometimes it is welcome.
The Anti-Aids drugs can be sold very cheaply in Africa, because producing them doesn't really cost much. DEVELOPING them, however, did cost a lot and if the companies could not sell the (same) drugs for a much higher price in Europe the drugs had never been developed. For more on these kind of things read Tim Harford, "The Undercover economist". Easy to understand for everybody and after that you really learnt a lot. Should be read at school, in my opinion.
I'm in the UK and have loads of US disks, having a multi region player (modified, no remote code required). I've always mostly purchased US or Canadian DVDs (mostly because they had a higher bit rate on the soundtrack or more extras) and have always been a little frustrated that I couldn't just take one of these round to a mates house who had a Sony DVD player with no know region hacks.

But things seem to be changing a little in the High Def arena!

When the HD-DVD vs Blu Ray battle raged, many home cinema fans like myself favoured HD-DVD. Arguably there wasn't much difference visually or sonically between the two formats, but HD-DVDs were not region locked, and Blu Rays were. Thanks to the power of Sony, both in the marketplace (PS3 factor) and as a film maker and distributor, and coupled with the ability to region code, most studios favoured Blu Ray, and thus HD-DVD died and become the modern day Betamax. But interestingly, there are more and more region free Blu Ray disks becoming availble. Even Fox, who have always seemed to be strongly on the side of region locking, are producing unlocked disks! Of course there are still plenty of Blu Rays that are region locked, so if you don't know in advance which disks aren't locked, it's going to be tricky to know which disks you can pick up on that holiday to the states!

Movietyme is a good place to start if your looking for region free disks:

As for the old tech, Region Free DVD players are easy to come by, and you don't have to visit dodgy sites for hacks all the time. Just searching or asking at is likely to get you the answer safely!
I concur. Not surprisingly ;)
All I want to know is when the Blake's 7 series set is gonna be released for R1...wait, what was the topic again?
It's not entirely true to say that they are the same discs in both regions. Region 2 (UK & Europe) discs, for example, invariably contain multiple language and subtitle tracks which are not present on Region 1 discs. 5+ years ago, Region 1 discs generally came with a higher standard of extras and bonus material which made them desirable to those who liked that sort of thing although since then, they've pretty much balanced out (and in some rare cases, the R2 versions have been much better).

As for players, I've only ever bought region-free machines. The first was back in 2000 (from Tesco of all places) and the second, a high-end (at the time) Sony player about 5 years ago. Like anything, research is important but it really isn't too hard to find out which machines are actually region free from any reputable site like Which!, Amazon, AVForums or so on. I don't think you need to be particularly net savvy or techy to find this information as long as you know that you want a region free machine and can use Google.
Yeah. Our president has no class. No class whatsoever.

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