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HOW TO…  MULTI-REGION DVD PLAYERS

 

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At the moment there are around 3,000 DVD titles available in the UK, with scores more launched each week, and the delay between most new movies being release in the US and UK is now down to just a few weeks. So why is there is still such a healthy demand for American 'Region 1' discs, and the machines on which to play them, and how can you join in the fun?

 

Regional Coding is supposed stop DVDs released in one part of the world – i.e. North America -- being sold outside specified regions or 'locales'. It was included in the DVD specification on the insistence of the major Hollywood studios in an attempt to control distribution and, somewhat optimistically, to stop piracy. For the great majority of DVD users Regional Coding is not a problem, in fact many newcomers are not even aware it exists, but it remains a constant irritant for serious movie fans, prevented from seeing a huge number of movies, new and old, by what they consider to be a form of backdoor censorship.

 

The idea is simple enough, the world is divided in to eight Regions or zones (see box copy) and an embedded code on every disc tells a player whether or not it is allowed to play it. All DVD players are supposed to be 'locked' to a single Region, as indeed they were on first generation players. This meant that anyone living in Region 2 – most of Western Europe – who wanted to watch a Region 1 (US) movie, either had to play them back on a PC fitted with DVD-ROM drives and running 'region-free' software or go to the trouble and expense of buying an American DVD player, have it adapted to work in the UK, and connect it to a TV capable of displaying NTSC video.

 

To this day most DVD players made by the major consumer electronics manufacturers that developed the format (principally Panasonic, Pioneer, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba) have kept the faith and its machines are 'hard coded'. The only way most players from those companies can be persuaded to play Region 1 discs, or all-region (multi-region) playback is to have them modified or 'chipped'. Technically it's not difficult or expensive and involves adding or replacing a microchip on the player's decoder circuit board, nor is it illegal but in most cases it invalidates the manufacturer's warranty. If you want to know more have a look at the Techtronics and Maxking websites, who are the leading practitioners of this dark art. They can be found at: http://www.techtronics.com/uk/shop/index.html and http://www.maxking.co.uk/dvdmod.htm.

 

Philips, another leading pioneer of DVD technology is notable by it absence from the 'hard code' group and was the first to break ranks when a couple of years ago it was discovered that players made by them could have their region coding changed by entering a simple code on the remote control handset. This was the first so-called 'Region hack' and Philips claimed it was a convenience feature that allowed owners, moving abroad to another region, to continue to use their players, and in any case the code could only be changed 25, or 30 times (no-one seemed certain…).

 

By 1999 most of the decoding and processing functions in second-generation DVD players had been integrated into single microchips. This had a big impact on prices, resulting in increased demand for players, which was met by several DVD manufacturing plants opening in China. Most of the most widely used single chip decoders are not region-specific, which helps keep prices down as it means factories only have to make one model of player. The region code is set in 'firmware (the player's control software) at the factory for the region the players will be sold in.

 

Needless it didn't take long for 'hacks' to change or disable the region lock to become known, either accidentally or deliberately, and once the secret was out the floodgates opened. Some manufacturers didn’t even bother with the pretence and players were shipped set to all region playback.

 

A typical example how this works in practice is the hack for the LG DVD-3000, 3200 and 3350 players. The procedure is to switch the player on (with no disc loaded) then press the following keys on the remote: Pause, 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9 and the word 'Code' appears on the screen. The user simply taps in the appropriate Region number (i.e. 1 for US discs, or 0 for all regions), press Pause and then switch the player off then on again. It's as simple as that. Details of hacks for other players are widely publicised on the Internet. One quick way to find if one is available for your machine is to type the make and model number, followed by the word 'hack' into a search engine like Google (www.google.com)

 

BOX COPY 1 – THE REGIONS

 

Region One

U.S., Canada, U.S. Territories

Region 2

Japan, Europe, Middle East and South Africa

Region 3

Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and East Asia

Region 4

Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean

Region 5

Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Indian subcontinent, Africa, North Korea, and Mongolia

Region 6

China

Region 7

To be allocated

Region 8

Special international venues such as aeroplanes and cruise ships

NB. Region 0 indicates region-free and discs can be replayed on any player

 

 

BOX COPY 2 – RCE AND MACROVISION

 

Within the past year several major movie distributors have hit back with a system called Regional Code Enhancement or RCE, which is designed to stop Region 1 playback on chipped and hacked players. In many cases it's only a temporary nuisance as RCE can be countered by switching the player to Region 1 only playback, however it remains a problem for owners of some older chipped players, which are fixed to all region playback.

 

All DVD players use the Macrovision anti-piracy system, which stops movies being copied on a VCR by interfering with the video signal. However, some chipped players and several firmware hacks allow Macrovision to be switched off.

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2001, 1106

 

 

 

 

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