DVD region code
DVD (digital versatile disc) region codes are a digital rights management technique designed to allow rights holders to control the international distribution of a DVD release, including its content, release date, and price, all according to the appropriate region. This is achieved by way of region-locked DVD players, which will play back only DVDs encoded to their region (plus those without any region code). The American DVD Copy Control Association also requires that DVD player manufacturers incorporate the regional-playback control (RPC) system. However, region-free DVD players, which ignore region coding, are also commercially available, and many DVD players can be modified to be region-free, allowing playback of all discs. DVDs may use one code, multiple codes (multi-region), or all codes (region free).
Region codes and countries
Any combination of regions can be applied to a single disc. For example, a DVD designated Region 2/4 is suitable for playback in Europe, Latin America, 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 1–8, 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 by implementing a system known as "Regional Coding Enhancement" (RCE).
DVDs sold in the Baltic states use both region 2 and 5 codes, having previously been in region 5 (due to their history as part of the USSR) but EU single market law concerning the free movement of goods caused a switch to region 2. European region 2 DVDs may be sub-coded "D1" to "D4". "D1" are the UK only releases; "D2" and "D3" are not sold in the UK and Ireland; "D4" are distributed throughout Europe. Overseas territories of the United Kingdom and France (both in region 2) often have other regions (4 or 5, depending on geographical situation) than their homelands.
North Korea and South Korea have different DVD region codes (North Korea: region 5, South Korea: region 3), but use the same Blu-ray region code (region A). In China, two DVD region codes are used: Mainland China uses region 6, but Hong Kong and Macau use region 3. There are also two Blu-ray regions used: Mainland China uses region C, but Hong Kong and Macau use region A. Most DVDs in India combine the region 2, region 4, and region 5 codes, or are region 0.
Region-code enhanced, also known as just "RCE" or "REA", 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 program 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 intention 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 aforementioned video loop of a map, which was impossible to escape from, as the user controls were disabled.
The scheme was fundamentally flawed, as 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 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.
Many "multi-region" DVD players defeated regional lockout and RCE by automatically identifying and matching a disc's region code 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. Computer programs such as DVD Shrink, Digiarty WinX DVD Ripper Platinum can make copies of region-coded DVDs without RCE restriction.
One purpose of region coding is controlling release dates. A practice of movie marketing threatened by the advent of digital home video is to release a movie to cinemas, and then for general sale, later in some countries than in others. This is common partly because releasing a movie at the same time worldwide used to be prohibitively expensive. For example, a physical film copy for a cinema is expensive and the most copies are required for the first weeks after release, so a spread release allows for reuse of some copies in other regions. Videotapes were inherently regional since formats had to match those of the encoding system used by television stations in that particular region, such as NTSC and PAL, although from early 1990s PAL machines increasingly offered NTSC playback. DVDs are less restricted in this sense, and region coding allows movie studios to better control the global release dates of DVDs.
Also, the copyright in a title may be held by different entities in different territories. Region coding enables copyright holders to (attempt to) prevent a DVD from a region from which they do not derive royalties from being played on a DVD player inside their region. Region coding attempts to dissuade importing of DVDs from one region into another.
PAL/SECAM vs. NTSC
DVDs are also formatted for use on two conflicting regional television systems: 480i/60 Hz and 576i/50 Hz, which in analog contexts are often referred to as 525/60 (NTSC) and 625/50 (PAL/SECAM) respectively. Strictly speaking, PAL and SECAM are analog color television signal formats which have no relevance in the digital domain (as evident in the conflation of PAL and SECAM, which are actually two distinct analog color systems). However, the DVD system was originally designed to encode the information necessary to reproduce signals in these formats, and the terms continue to be used (incorrectly) as a method of identifying refresh rates and vertical resolution. However, an "NTSC", "PAL" or "SECAM" DVD player that has one or more analog composite video output (baseband or modulated) will only produce NTSC, PAL or SECAM signals, respectively, from those outputs, and may only play DVDs identified with the corresponding format.
NTSC is the analog TV format historically associated with the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Philippines, Taiwan, and other countries. PAL is the analog color TV format historically associated with most of Europe, most of Africa, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, North Korea, and other countries (Brazil adopted the variant PAL-M, which uses the refresh rate and resolution commonly associated with NTSC). SECAM, a format associated with French-speaking Europe, while using the same resolution and refresh rate as PAL, is a distinct format which uses a very different system of color encoding. Some DVD players can only play discs identified as NTSC, PAL or SECAM, while others can play multiple standards.
In general, it is easier for consumers in PAL/SECAM countries to view NTSC DVDs than vice versa. Almost all DVD players sold in PAL/SECAM countries are capable of playing both kinds of discs, and most modern PAL TVs can handle the converted signal. NTSC discs may be output from a PAL DVD player in three different ways:
- using a non-chroma encoded format such as RGB SCART or YPBPR component video.
- using PAL 60 encoded composite video/S-Video—a "hybrid" system which uses NTSC's 525/60 line format along with PAL's chroma subcarrier
- using NTSC encoded composite video/S-Video.
However, most NTSC players cannot play PAL discs, and most NTSC TVs do not accept 576i video signals as used on PAL/SECAM DVDs. Those in NTSC countries, such as the United States, generally require both a region-free, multi-standard player and a multi-standard television to view PAL discs, or a converter box, whereas those in PAL countries generally require only a region-free player to view NTSC discs. (with the possible exception for Japan in most of European countries, since they are in the same region. That means region 2 users could import Japanese discs and play it on their players without any obstacles.) There are also differences in pixel aspect ratio (720 × 480 vs. 720 × 576 with the same image aspect ratio) and display frame rate (29.97 vs. 25).
Most computer-based DVD software and hardware can play both NTSC and PAL video and both audio standards.
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.
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. Many websites provide instructions for different models of standalone DVD players, to hack, and their factory codes.
Computer DVD drives
Older DVD drives use RPC-1 (Regional Playback Control) 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 or hacked with RPC-1 firmware, effectively making the drive region-free. This may void the drive warranty.
Some drives may come set as region-free, so the user is expected to assign their region when they buy it. In this case, some DVD programs may prompt the user to select a region, while others may actually assign the region automatically based on the locale set in the operating system.
In most computer drives, users are allowed to change the region code up to five times. If the number of allowances reaches zero, the region last used will be permanent even if the drive is transferred to another computer. This limit is built into the drive's controller software, called firmware. Resetting the firmware count can be done with first- or third-party software tools, or by reflashing (see above) to RPC-1 firmware.
Since some software does not work correctly with RPC-1 drives, there is also the option of reflashing the drive with a so-called auto-reset firmware. This firmware appears as RPC-2 firmware to software, but will reset the region changes counter whenever power is cycled, reverting to the state of a drive that has never had its region code changed.
Software DVD players
Most freeware and open source DVD players ignore region coding. VLC, for example, does not attempt to enforce region coding; however, it requires access to the DVD's raw data to overcome CSS encryption, and such access may not be available on some drives with RPC-2 firmware when playing a disc from a different region than the region to which the drive is locked. 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.
The region coding of a DVD can be circumvented by making a copy that adds flags for all region codes, creating an all-region DVD. DVD backup software can do this, and some can also remove Macrovision, CSS, and disabled user operations (UOps).
In common region-locked DVDs (but not in RCE-DVDs), the region code is stored in the file "VIDEO_TS.IFO" (table "VMGM_MAT"), byte offsets 34 and 35. The eight regions each correspond to a value which is a power of 2: Region 1 corresponds to 1 (20), Region 2 to 2 (21), Region 3 to 4 (22), and so on through Region 8, which corresponds to 128 (27). The values of each region that the disc is not encoded for are added together to give the value in the file. For example, a disc that is encoded for Region 1 but not Regions 2–8 will have the value 2+4+8+16+32+64+128=254. A disc encoded for Regions 1, 2 and 4 will have the value 4+16+32+64+128=244. A region-free or RCE-protected DVD will carry the value zero, since no regions are excluded.
Video game consoles
The Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 consoles are all region-locked for DVD playback. The PlayStation 2 can be modified to have its regional-locking disabled through the use of modchips. Although region locked on film DVDs and film Blu-ray Discs, the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are region free for video games, though add-on content on the online store is region locked and must match the region of the disc.
Blu-ray Disc region codes
Blu-ray Discs use a much simpler region-code system than DVD with only three regions, labeled A, B and C. As with DVDs, many Blu-rays are encoded region 0 (region free), making them suitable for players worldwide.
Unlike DVD regions, Blu-ray regions are verified only by the player software, not by the computer system or the drive. The region code is stored in a file or the registry, and there are hacks to reset the region counter of the player software. In stand-alone players, the region code is part of the firmware. Most Blu-Rays, however, are region-free.
For bypassing region codes, there are software and multi-regional players available.
A new form of Blu-ray region coding tests not only the region of the player/player software, but also its country code. This means, for example, while both the US and Japan are Region A, some American discs will not play on devices/software installed in Japan or vice versa, since the two countries have different country codes (the United States has 21843 or Hex 5553 ("US" in ASCII, according to ISO 3166-1), and Japan has 19024, or Hex 4a50 ("JP"); Canada has 17217 or Hex 4341 ("CA"). Although there are only three Blu-ray regions, the country code allows much more precise control of the regional distribution of Blu-ray discs than the six (or eight) DVD regions. In Blu-ray discs, there are no "special regions" such as the regions 7 and 8 in DVDs.
UMD region codes
For the UMD, a disc type used for the PlayStation Portable, UMD movies have region codes similar to DVDs, although many PSP games are region-free.
Criticism and 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 Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Under New Zealand copyright law, DVD region codes and the mechanisms in DVD players to enforce them have no legal protection. The practice has also been criticized by the European Commission which as of 14 March 2001 is investigating whether the resulting price discrimination amounts to a violation of EU competition law.
The only entities that seem to be really benefiting from DVD Region Coding are the movie studios, the marketers of Code-Free DVD players and DVD decrypters. The Washington Post has highlighted how DVD region-coding has been a major inconvenience for travelers who wish to legally purchase DVDs abroad and return with them to their countries of origin, students of foreign languages, immigrants who want to watch films from their homeland and foreign film enthusiasts. Another criticism is that region-coding allows for local censorship. For example, the Region 1 DVD of the 1999 drama film Eyes Wide Shut contains the digital manipulations necessary for the film to secure an MPAA R-rating, whereas these manipulations are not evident in non–region 1 discs.