February 17, 2002
5:13 AM   Subscribe

Regional Coding of DVDs is a common practice among the large movie studios. Mostly American companies putting into place regional coding "to protect American interests" in many cases. But then why does content vary so much between the US and the European counterparts of the home entertainment industry. The industry claims it is to protect themselves from piracy, but is it really the control of content that they want? And whether they've created that content or not, is it collusion and unfair business practices to give one region completely different availability than another, or just business as usual?
posted by benjh (22 comments total)
I've been looking for ways to get around these pesky problems, importing DVDs, and playing them here in the US. But so far I have yet to find a real viable solution.

Even when you get past the regional coding (let's say I ordered a DVD player from Europe) then I would still have the PAL --> NTSC conversion problem. And even then, the voltage is different for the plugs.
posted by benjh at 5:15 AM on February 17, 2002

For a computer drive, it's pretty easy (search: the firmware page). For a home system, you'd be better off finding a ridiculously expensive region-free player; based on the PAL/NTSC stuff you've mentioned, you already know that you really can't convert a regular system with any reliability or ... "inexpensivity."
posted by j.edwards at 5:18 AM on February 17, 2002

I say, give them all gold medals.
posted by mikhail at 5:51 AM on February 17, 2002

My DVD player is multi-region. I can play DVD's from anywhere, and it was only a mid-priced player. I live in Australia (region 4). Any TV sold in Australia these days, where PAL is standard, are also capable of playing NTSC. My DVD player wasn't modified or anything, but I'm glad I bought a multi-region player: I bought the complete UK region 2 set of The Prisoner and it plays fine.

In theory, the region system could be a real hassle for people like me, living in a region that might not be able to get more obscure DVD titles. But since multi-region players are so easily come by here (I bought mine, a Pioneer, at a discount hi-fi store), I really don't understand who or what the region system protects.

The PAL/NTSC problem only really effects NTSC people, since the PAL people generally have TVs that are capable of playing both standards (which I'm sure is simply an economy of scale thing: it's cheaper to produce the one TV model capable of displaying anything than different models for different standards).

The DVD region thing certainly isn't stopping the rest of the world from viewing region 1 DVDs. So what's the point? Nothing is being protected. People are just being generally inconvenienced.
posted by chrisgregory at 5:58 AM on February 17, 2002

I thought about doing the changing the region on my computer, but unfortunately, it only lets you change it 5 times before it stops.

I've seen DVD players that have PAL to NTSC conversion built into them, but I'm wary about what kind of results they would produce.

It seems the only market where regional coding is working, assuming the coding was designed to deter by inconvience, is the American market.
posted by benjh at 6:13 AM on February 17, 2002

The zoning laws are arbitrary at best. I don't think that they protect local industry. They just make things worse for the consumer.

I have a DVD player with my Play station. If I lived in the US, that would be all I needed for the time being. But because most of the DVDs I am interested in owning have been released solely for region one, I have to look around for a multi-region player.

Another industry that is problematic at the moment is the e-book market, all competing standards and so on. No one e-book will give you access to all of the books that are available, and not all books are made available. It's a mess, and I can't justify entering into the market at this point in time.
posted by lucien at 9:03 AM on February 17, 2002

I've done a bit of research into the DVD forum for work (they're an industry group that sets DVD standards) and it's my understanding that the regional coding system is not so much about controlling piracy as it's about controlling the release schedule for entertainment content. It also allows for easier partition of regional markets in distribution contracts and other agreements.

This was a major issue when I brought my DVD player two years ago. I managed to find a new multi-region player on Ebay for $200US. Not bad. Of course, it's an off-brand and the remote has no power button (?!), but it works like a champ.

They're out there, but you just have to look.

BTW, Ebay is also a nice source for foreign DVDs that haven't been released in the US. Anyone know if AmazonUK will deliver over here?
posted by estopped at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2002

Anyone know if AmazonUK will deliver over here?

Yes--I buy books, and on occasion PAL videos, from them all the time. I think there are quantity restrictions--a US buyer couldn't get thirty copies of a book not yet published here--but if you're only buying one copy of something, there's no problem.

I only find the Region 1 DVD situation frustrating when it applies to an item that will never be released in the USA. There are various and sundry UK miniseries, TV movies/series, and indeed occasional films that never see US distribution, and ergo never get into our market.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2002

estopped, of course they will. That's how I got my Buffy first season PAL tapes.

I'd like to hear more about regional differences in content though...
posted by bingo at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2002

Incidentally, what's the quality of the multi-region players? I buy enough UK videos that one of these would make economic sense (for the cost of shipping, purchase, and translation from PAL to NTSC, I might as well get a DVD), but how well do they actually work? eBay was listing Daewoo and Sampo models.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:28 AM on February 17, 2002

Um I bought my region free, fairly cheap, Pioneer DVD player last year in NYC.
posted by riffola at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2002

I've had great luck buying books from Europe over the Net; lousy luck finding DVDs. Why bother going to Belgium just to buy Braveheart? Then again, it's not that difficult to get European products in America, if you're so inclined.

My impression was that recent big Hollywood items were delayed and overpriced in Europe, etc., and that the whole regions coding thing was supposed to keep prices artificially high outside Region 1. The only consumers in North America being inconvenienced would be very small groups with very specific interests (really obscure Japanese anime, Bollywood, Lithuanian whittling competitions...)

posted by gimonca at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2002

For anyone playing PAL content, are you playing on an NTSC television, and if so, what are your results quality wise?

I think everyone is being affected unreasonably by these restrictions. £ 23.99 is something around $35 I think, which would make something pretty reasonably priced for a box set of DVDs that would normally sell for just about that in US.
posted by benjh at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2002

Multi-region players cannot be that hard to find. If you search some DVD foruns (or try Google), you might find out that your average DVD player has a code or some way to bypass region protection.

NTSC x PAL is almost the same thing. Many TV sets handle both systems (and some more) automatically. One could use a PAL-NTSC coder/decoder ( avery cheap box that does the trick), but I suspect that the same protection that prevents people from recording DVD content in a VCR tape would scramble the image when you use a decoder.

One tip: if you live in a city with a strong south american tourism activitie (Miami and NYC, for example), it might be easyer to find them. Here in Brazil, we use PAL and region 4 players, but mine was set to multiregion by the store atendant, using the remote control and some code he got in an internet forum.
posted by rexgregbr at 1:23 PM on February 17, 2002

It's been touched on, but a large part of the motivation for region-coding has to do with the contracts drawn up around film distribution in different countries. Even a major studio picture may be partially financed by selling overseas distribution rights, theatrical and video. When it comes to films that have been around a while, it's quite possible that distribution rights are held by many different countries, representing several regions. So the region code is a way to make sure everyone that holds distribution rights gets to cash in on them. They're not arbitrary restictions against the consumer, but many times the non-US rights to a film can be very complex, as they're often held by smaller companies which go out of business, change hands, etc. So in that sense the region code is to thwart priacy, by keeping a film under the control of each rights holder. Macrovision is much more the anti-piracy front for US discs, but many of the players that thwart the region code do the same to Macrovision. But why you'd want to record a $20 disc to a three dollar tape that will be useless in 5 years is beyond me.

That being said, many discs produced outside the states are region-free. So if you can get around the PAL thing (any PC or MAC with a DVD-ROM can play PAL discs) then eat up those region-free discs.
posted by videodrome at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2002

The FPP attends specifically to the release in the UK and Europe of complete seasons of US television shows, when those same packages are only released later, if at all, in the US and Canadat (i.e., Region 1). The reason for this is simple: the US has a huge, lucrative syndication market for successful television shows, and Europe has a very limited market for same. Selling "complete season" DVDs directly cannibalizes US syndication revenues, and the distributors will only allow it, as a general rule, after the series has played through many times in syndication.
posted by MattD at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2002

I only find the Region 1 DVD situation frustrating when it applies to an item that will never be released in the USA. There are various and sundry UK miniseries, TV movies/series, and indeed occasional films that never see US distribution, and ergo never get into our market.

On a somewhat related note, Americans who are really into British (or Australian) TV content may wish to consider getting a Canadian DBS system. It's completely legal, you get a ton of original content (thanks to Canada's culture-restriction laws), plus the Canadian dollar is so weak you only pay about 60% of what an actual Canadian would. Being in the Commonwealth, their various channels carry all sorts of Brit and Oz stuff that never makes it here to the US. Even better, you get both East and West Coast US network affiliates, so you can timeshift to your heart's content and not have to choose between CSI and Will & Grace any more!
posted by aaron at 5:11 PM on February 17, 2002

(Oh, forgot the price: As little as US$10/mo for the barebones package, though I think the average movie junkie would probably end up shelling out more like $30/mo or so. That's a hell of a lot less than most US cable or satellite services.)
posted by aaron at 5:13 PM on February 17, 2002

Region-free or region-selectable dvd players vary in quality. The nicest one I know of is made by malata - i'm sure a google search will turn up the US distributor. It' runs abour $329, and in addition to the region coding, it has pal to ntsc conversion, is progressive scan, has all the outputs you'd ever want, and in all the reviews i've seen of it, it goes toe to to with your average $300-500 premium region-locked player. Basically, it's the region-free player for video nerds. i want it.
posted by chrisege at 1:02 AM on February 18, 2002

It's completely legal, you get a ton of original content (thanks to Canada's culture-restriction laws), plus the Canadian dollar is so weak you only pay about 60% of what an actual Canadian would.

Er...the "legalities" page on this site will probably turn off many US users, especially when it touches on the likely effect of calling one of these Canadian companies & identifying oneself as a "customer" (i.e., the bit about immediately losing service).
posted by thomas j wise at 11:28 AM on February 18, 2002

chrisege: my DVD player is a Philco (I don't know about US, but here in Brazil, Philco is a traditional electronics brand, with quality equipments). It's multiregion (thanks to the code that I've mentioned), plays CDs, CD-RWs, VCD, and MP3. It has video-component jack out, 5.1 dolby audio jacks out (it doesn't need a Home Theather Receiver, I can plug it directly into a hi-end audio system), coaxial audio out, fiber audio out, S-Video out and it's PAL/NTSC automatic.

Also, it has 2 microphone jacks (so you can sing karaoke if you want) and 2 games (Tetris and Reversi). Really. :-)
posted by rexgregbr at 10:51 AM on February 19, 2002

especially when it touches on the likely effect of calling one of these Canadian companies & identifying oneself as a "customer" (i.e., the bit about immediately losing service).

That's why it explicitly says "get your service through a middleman." I was trying to not get too detailed in a post that didn't need to be a mile long, but I'll put it in a touch more detailed fashion: It's not illegal in the US. The worst they could possibly do to you is turn off the box. If you go through the middleman service, they'll never know you're not in Canada and your box will never be zapped. They two Canadian satellite systems desperately want the business of the summer-in-Florida Canadians, so they've set up this system with a wink and a nod.
posted by aaron at 11:34 PM on February 20, 2002

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