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DVD Region Encoding on Verge of Collapse? 597

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the wouldn't-it-be-nice dept.
Spudley writes "It seems like the infamous Region Encoding system used by DVD manufacturers to prevent us buying disks from overseas is about to collapse - due to widespread flaunting of the system. This article on the BBC doesn't go into much technical detail, but does include an interview with a company that manufactures DVD players ("You can find codes for more or less all brands of DVD player including ours") and some speculation on the future." It always seemed like an idea destined to fail.
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DVD Region Encoding on Verge of Collapse?

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  • why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CrazyDwarf (529428)
    I've never understood the reason behind region encoding. I know sometimes they release movies with different endings in Europe than they do in the US, and I would like to think I should be able to purchase a copy of the movie from there with the other ending (provided they don't already include in on the US version of the DVD.)
    • Re:why? (Score:4, Informative)

      by trajano (220061) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:20AM (#4097318) Homepage Journal
      Its usually because of the licensing and copyright restrictions by the artists and manufacturing companies.

      When someone wants to put a soundtrack or put an actor on a movie, they have to specify who they are distributing it to in the contract.

      So usually they sometimes go this anime sound track can only be distributed in Japan. No where else.

      Or this European actor can only be shown in theaters playing in Russia.
    • Re:why? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dsfox (2694)
      The basic reason was to control release dates, and
      to mollify countries like China who would like to
      prevent people from seeing a lot of films. Censorship.
      I'm not sure its an idea that was destined to fail,
      but I'd sure be glad if it did.
    • Re:why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Caballero (11938) <{daryll} {at} {daryll.net}> on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:21AM (#4097325) Homepage

      Strictly economics. The studio wants to control the spread of the movie to maximize profit.

      Movies often open in the US 6-9 months before they show in Europe. In many cases, the US DVD is out before the move has opened in Europe. With region codes they make it hard for Europeans to buy the DVD instead of going out to the theater.
      • Re:why? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by gallen1234 (565989)

        Movies often open in the US 6-9 months before they show in Europe.

        But this begs the question: What's the business justification for releasing a movie in Europe 6-9 months after it's released in the U.S.?

        • Re:why? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by andyring (100627)
          While I don't know for sure, I'd suspect it's to stretch out the revenue stream. They sell it in the US for half a year, then when sales slow because everyone who wants it has it, they release it elsewhere so they can keep raking in more money, as opposed to having it all come in basically in one chunk.
        • The official reason for this is the translation that takes quite a lot of time.
          • Re:why? (Score:5, Funny)

            by rekoil (168689) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:37AM (#4097468)
            To translate a film from American English to U.K English? What do they do, overdub "F*cking" with "bloddy" every time it's uttered?
            • Re:why? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by cei (107343) on Monday August 19, 2002 @12:02PM (#4098076) Homepage Journal
              The UK DVD of Star Wars Ep II will be missing the 26 frames of head-butt in the fight sequence between Jango Fett & Obi-Wan, for ratings reasons...

              Likewise, the UK version of Disney's Lilo & Stitch has Lilo climbing into a cabinet with a pizza box lid for a door, while in the US version she climbs into a clothes drier. The UK ratings board had issues with that...
        • Re:why? (Score:5, Informative)

          by tftp (111690) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:35AM (#4097447) Homepage
          The business justification is simple. Advertisement of a movie in one country costs N million dollars; if you do it in M countries you must have N*M million dollars. But this is expensive, and where the money would come from? Especially right after the movie is done and all the investment/loan money already spent?

          The easy way out is to start in few countries, collect money, recoup your advertising expenses, and reinvest into advertising in another country or group of countries. This way you only need N million dollars regardless of how many countries you sell the movie to. This, of course, takes time, and that's where the delay comes from.

        • Re:why? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vidarh (309115)
          There are several reasons for this. One is marketing costs - it may be easier to sustain a high marketing effort if you can focus on market by market. For smaller studios especially, which have limited cash flow, this can certainly be an issue.

          Another is the cost of making prints. Making and distributing prints of a movie is not a cheap process, and if you'd have to make separate prints for all the movie theathers - including small theaters that would only show the movie a couple of times, would be cost prohibitive. So they get around it by staggering the release and redistributing prints as and when the movie is taken off somewhere.

          The latter may dramatically change with fully digital movies, when there's suddenly a lot of alternatives to cutting cost in the distribution...

        • Traditionally movies are released in summer in US and in fall/winter in Europe.

          Maybe at the beginning there was some translation issues, but now that movies movies are released in english (at least in north europe) I think that's because now people are are accustomed to see major releases in winter (in particular in the pre Christmas period).
        • Re:why? (Score:3, Informative)

          by rodgerd (402)
          One reason is prints. Movie prints are mondo expensive to manufacture, so Hollywood studios may make enough for the opening in the US (a few thousand for a big release) and then ship them overseas, rather than making tens of thousands of prints for worldwide releases.

          The revenue stream is another, since staggered releases provide the peak of a new release when business tails off in another market.

          Local market variations may be a factor, too - school holidays are at different times in different countries, which is when studios like to have kids' films in the theatres.

          It's fucking annoying, though, when you live outside the States, because it's all but impossible to avoid picking up more information than you wanted about things before they arrive here.
      • by crow (16139) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:26AM (#4097370) Homepage Journal
        If it were just a matter of scheduling releases (which is the most often cited reason for the coding), then they wouldn't include region coding except on recent movies. But look at DVDs of classic movies; they're all region coded.

        Why?

        They want to maximize profit by charging different prices in different markets. They know that if they set the price 50% or 100% higher in some region, then people will import from the cheaper region. Region coding is supposed to stop that. In practice, this is the main reason that people want to bypass region coding--cheaper discs from other regions.
        • by Fat Casper (260409) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:37AM (#4097470) Homepage
          They want to maximize profit by charging different prices in different markets.

          And now they're starting to realise that if you only have one product to sell, then you only have one market. I love it: This was such a grass-roots effort that it wasn't organized at all- just people everywhere voting with their wallets.
          Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, the MPAA is pouring in money trying to stop history.

      • Re:why? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by bjorklid (601383)
        As an European, I can verify this. We have small "underground" shops which shell other-than-R2 DVDs, which cannot be found as R2, mostly because they're not released here officially yet. They also do modifications for some DVD-players that are not "crackable" thru remote control.
        • Re:why? (Score:3, Informative)

          by comcn (194756)
          ...and some "overground" ones, too. One of the best places I've found to buy DVDs from is CD WOW!, http://www.cd-wow.co.uk/ [cd-wow.co.uk]. Most DVDs there are less than £15, but can be any region (they tell you what region it is). They are also good in that you pay what you see: no VAT or postage to add on top.
        • Re:why? (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Undergound shops? Yeah, these little shops are well underground [play.com] In fact, you have to go DEEP underground [richersounds.co.uk] to find a shop [tesco.com] that would sell [asda.com] region free players!

          O.K, I guess it depends on exactly where you are in this big place called "Europe", but hey, I've got stacks of R1 disks...
      • Re:why? (Score:3, Informative)

        Movies often open in the US 6-9 months before they show in Europe.

        Not true anymore. The delta between US and Europe has shrunk to a few weeks, thus reducing the need for DVD zoning. That's the reason.
        • Re:why? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Gossy (130782)
          Not true - For example, The Sum of All Fears STILL isn't out over here, it comes out in September last I heard. In the USA it has been out for months. 6-9 months is a little over the top, but we're certainly still waiting quite a while.

          I've seen many films available for DVD release in America that are only recent cinema releases here.
      • The studio wants to control the spread of the movie to maximize profit.

        Then why are so many DVDs region coded that are not of current movies? I've seen old, old movies on DVDs with region coding. Heck, I've even seen seasons of TV shows on DVDs that were region coded. The region coding of these DVDs instantly defeats the argument you present (which is the one the MPAA gives); if the studios were motivated by what they *say* they are motivated by, these DVDs would not be region coded.
    • Re:why? (Score:4, Informative)

      by FatRatBastard (7583) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:26AM (#4097372) Homepage
      Mainly its because in some cases different companies have the rights to distribute a movie (and / or its video release) in different regions. Thus, if Company B paid Company A for the exclusive rights to distribute a movie in video form in Europe, its none too happy about Company A making money from European viewers who purchase said video from Amazon USA.

      Now, just because Company B is potentially taking in the pants due to out of region sales doen't mean that the Region Encoding is a good thing, but its an explanation over why the movie industry pushed for it in the first place.
      • Re:why? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Fat Casper (260409)
        Thus, if Company B paid Company A for the exclusive rights to distribute a movie in video form in Europe, its none too happy about Company A making money from European viewers who purchase said video from Amazon USA.

        See, free trade is great when you move the DVD production overseas, but it's bad when customers are allowed to buy it at overseas prices. Fuck you, MPAA, and the stupid, plotless vehicle you rode in on.

        • Re:why? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rodgerd (402)
          This is a general problem. When Levis fire everyone making jeans outside of opressive, third-world dictatorships (where most clothes are made these days), they then re-import into countries at whever price the market will bear. So when people in Europe started bulk-buying jeans from Turkey (where the price was less than a quarter that in Western Europe), Levis tried every tactic under the sun to nail people. Got 'em under trademark law, I think (that's the grey marketing crap you hear about).

          OfficialThink goes: When globalisation lets you sack people paid a living wage and replace them with people working in slave labour conditions in a Vietnamese prison, it's good! When it lets your customers buy you product for its real cost, it's illegal!
    • Re:why? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Something that should be pointed out, and i haven't seen mentioned yet, is that studio's sometimes split costs of production on a film.

      For example, New Line and Fox (I believe, but could be wrong) own varying rights to Lord of the Rings. New Line initally owned it all, but to cover their asses in case it flopped (remember, when they first started making it - it was far from a surefire hit), they sold foreign distribution rights to FOX for something like 100-150 Million.

      This means fox gets all the money from non-north america stuff, both in terms of tickets sold at theatre's, and DVD release. If the disks were region free, New Line could "steal" profits from Fox. Its not just stuido's trying to get different amounts from different markets, and stagger releases. Its them protecting profits from each other on split productions.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:17AM (#4097293)
    You might be able to hack DVD players using their own remote control, but I doubt it'd work with the Sky satellite remote pictured in the article ;)
    • You might be able to hack DVD players using their own remote control, but I doubt it'd work with the Sky satellite remote pictured in the article ;)

      Yea, when they don't even work with Sky satellite boxes half the time.
  • by I Want GNU! (556631) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:18AM (#4097300) Homepage
    And if you are getting a DVD player, buy a multi region one. They are out there.

    Of course, if you wait then the prices might go down, so you might be burning money. :-)
  • Dude, wrong word. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:18AM (#4097302)
    s/flaunting/flouting/
  • by Viewsonic (584922) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:19AM (#4097307)
    I can understand that people want to tailor their specific videos/software per region because of language barriers and such, so it'll be easier to track and distribute... But.. DVD is a medium that was MEANT to be an "all inclusive" format.. Meaning you can have Japanese, Spanish, whatever languages, subtitles, etc all on the same disc, or discs. Often in these region mixups, different people got to work on the movies and decided to add uncut footage that the other regions didn't get so it pissed everyone off .. Now everyone can be the same. Finally.
    • by jmu1 (183541) <jmullman@@@gasou...edu> on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:26AM (#4097369) Journal
      Added to that, there are multinational/multilengual people that wouldn't get the chance to see something from their homeland unless they bought _another_ player.
    • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:14AM (#4097739) Journal
      "...people want to tailor their specific videos/software per region because of language barriers and such..."

      You don't really mean that do you? I mean seriously, does ANYONE see DVD region-encoding as ANYTHING but a ludicrously obvious effort by producing companies to introduce market control and artificial scarcity, thus allowing inflated pricing?

      You are a company, you have a right to try to sell your products for as high a price as the market will bear. The market, on the other hand has a right (yes, a right) to try to force your prices as low as it can. If the perceived total net cost of piracy is less than your selling price, you lose. You can (as the RIAA, BSA, etc) try to raise the perceived cost of piracy, at the cost of goodwill.

      The internet killed region-encoding, plain and simple. It'll kill any similar effort at market control such as inflated digital media pricing (note to RIAA: piracy will dissolve if you reduced your prices to something commensurate with the music's value....), and even the stupid German book price-fixing laws.

      Good riddance to blatantly greedy marketing schemes. Go start a chain-letter or something.
      • I mean seriously, does ANYONE see DVD region-encoding as ANYTHING but a ludicrously obvious effort by producing companies to introduce market control and artificial scarcity, thus allowing inflated pricing?

        Well, if you're totally ignorant about the entire industry I suppose you could see it as that alone.

        The reality, however, is that one company often doesn't own the distribution rights worldwide... or in all formats. This is less common now (for movies, for TV syndication it's still very common), but it still impacts modern day reality because of old distribution agreements.

        Paramount may have produced the movie. Domestic (US) home viewing rights may have been sold to Warner Bros (now AOL/Time-Warner). European distribution rights may be owned by Universal. Distribution in Asia or Africa may be owned by more regional companies.

        And while this mostly affects older movies and (new or old) TV shows, it does have impact on new movies. A movie produced in the US may not hit foreign markets for 2-4 months, during which dubbing and other region-specific changes are made. By the time the movie premieres in Asia it may be coming out on DVD in the US. Having it available worldwide would cause some obvious problems.

        Is region encoding used for artificial scarcity? Sure. Especially in Australia, and in some cases the US (mostly for TV shows, where syndication rights have royally screwed up ownership legalities). But you can bet that similar technology will be included in every digital medium for the forseeable future -- the industry is built around the concepts, and there's legacy titles that have rather nasty ownership issues that dictate this be a necessity. Will there be some people who hack the technology away? Sure. But it's going to be a small minority of people, particularly in the cash cow countries like the US.
  • by bsDaemon (87307)
    Someone came to the USA from the UK to buy a DVD!! How dare they support severl layers of economy like that!! The bastard!! Seriously, who gives a damn about where the DVD gets watched as long as they bought it. The manufacurers still get cash.
    • Re:OMG!! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tet (2721)
      Seriously, who gives a damn about where the DVD gets watched as long as they bought it. The manufacurers still get cash.

      The manufacturers give a damn, because they get more cash if they can time the releases with suitable promotional visits from the film's stars, etc. If the DVD is released into a global market, they can't stagger releases to allow them to concentrate on one market at a time. After all, there's only one Tom Cruise, and he can't be publicising his latest film in the USA, Europe and the Far East all at the same time. I personally don't think that maximizing an already huge amount of profit is sufficient reason for them to stomp all over my rights as a consumer, but that's their reasoning behind it.

    • The manufacurers still get cash.


      Not as much as they would though if you bought the DVD in the UK. DVDs (and music) are more expensive here, so I wouldn't be surprised if they gave a damn.
  • by gerf (532474) <edtgerf@gmail.com> on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:21AM (#4097326) Journal

    It always seemed like an idea destined to fail

    No, i think it did its job spledidly. It prevented the general populace from spreading movies where they don't want, and it still does. How many people do you think buy a Gateway Computer, with DVD, tech support, ect., and don't know jack about Regional encoding. Trust me, they've done what they wanted to do, and it will still work, to a surprising degree, well into the future.

    Just think how many people still can't program the time on a VCR. Do you seriously think they're going to find a go-around to Regional encoding when they're barely competent enough to wipe their own arse?

    • > Just think how many people still can't program the time on a
      > VCR. Do you seriously think they're going to find a go-around
      > to Regional encoding when they're barely competent enough
      > to wipe their own arse?

      Well in Denmark (and I guess many places in Europe) most cheep DVD players are region free, and the more expencive ones can be modified as an option often proposed by the salesman. So Joe Sixpack doesn't really have to think that hard to get around regional encoding.

    • by Ldir (411548) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:11AM (#4097720)
      No, i think it did its job spledidly. It prevented the general populace from spreading movies where they don't want, and it still does . How many people do you think buy a Gateway Computer, with DVD, tech support, ect., and don't know jack about Regional encoding.

      I think that's a U.S.-centric view of the situation. Region-free and region-selectable DVD players aren't that widespread in the U.S. simply because there's little incentive to do the mods here. We already get the widest selection of titles at the lowest prices. There are exceptions, of course, like Japanese anime lovers and film buffs looking for a certain, often uncut version of a film, but they're a small portion of the overall U.S. market.

      The rest of the world is in a different boat. When you read about region-coding hacks, you are almost invariably reading about someone who wants to play Region 1 discs. This article is a case in point.

      If you do a Google search for "region-free", most of the sites you find will be overseas. The retailers who sell region-free players and mods are everywhere but the U.S. When I ordered a mod board for my Pioneer, I ordered it from a European site and paid in Euros, even though the company shipped the product from an office in the U.S. Their major focus is Europe; they don't do much business here in the USA.

      Having said that, I will be astonished if Hollywood really gives up on region-coding. They are the ultimate control freaks; it's hard to imagine they'll suddenly start selling what the customer wants instead of what Hollywood wants.

  • More links (Score:4, Informative)

    by countach (534280) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:25AM (#4097361)
    Here is the press release [tne.net.au] from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's investigation into the legality of Sony's region encoding. Here is Sony's response [zdnet.co.uk]. Here is more info about the ACCC's stance [geocities.com]. And Here's what aussies think of it all [news.com.au].
  • Macrovision (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thryllkill (52874)
    They should ditch the macrovision crap too. It really sucks for those of us with cheap TVs, you can either watch it with that brilliant surround sound, but the picture wavers from crap to worse, or use a co-ax connector and lose all that great sound. Hmmm, who the fsck would record a dvd to vhs anyways.

    Get a better TV you say??? I'd love too, but I am still working my way through college. Wanna donate a k-rad HDTV??? My email is at the top...
    • grab the $65 apex player from walmart, it'll play everything I've thrown at it, and can be flashed to be macrovision free. it really does kick ass.
    • Small children (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yerricde (125198)

      Hmmm, who the fsck would record a dvd to vhs anyways.

      Parents of small children would, to avoid damaging their copy of "Adventures of Pinocchio" that the kids watch every night. Keep the purchased DVD copy as a backup and let the kids dest^H^H^H^Hwatch a copy on a $2 VHS tape. The Supreme Court has maintained that this is a fair use.

      That is, until Congress enacted a bill that created 17 USC 1201 [cornell.edu], which gives publishers the right to outlaw fair use.

  • Apex (Score:4, Informative)

    by Apreche (239272) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:26AM (#4097367) Homepage Journal
    is a particularly cool company. If you haven't heard of them they make very very cheap DVD players. Like 60 bucks for some of the models. As far as I know they were the first to have "cheat codes" to unlock regions. And some people are paying hundreds for region free players! The really cool thing about Apex players is that some of the models have PAL converters in them. So you will really have no problem watching DVDs from England or anywhere else.
    Be warned though. Apex's players are 60 bucks for a reason. They are made of cheap parts and cheap plastic. Basically they are pieces of crap, and the region changing/pal converting is the only feature they have. I don't even think they all have optical audio out. Yeah, so check them out, it's the cheapest solution I've found.
    • Re:Apex (Score:4, Interesting)

      by (startx) (37027) <slashdot.unspunproductions@com> on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:50AM (#4097569) Journal
      it's not the ONLY feature they have. my $68 apex player from wal-mart will play any region dvd, any vcd, svcd, mp3 cd, kodak picture cd, audio cd, and even raw mpeg burned to a cdr! oh, and it's got component output and I've flashed the rom to be macro-vision free too! It really is a neat little peice of hardware, and perfect for tossing into a dorm room, because if someone breaks it it's relatively cheap to replace :-)
  • Simple solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rhadamanthus (200665) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:27AM (#4097378)
    APEX AD-3201. At K-mart for about 100 bucks. Open the tray, press 8-4-2-1, and turn off region encoding and macrovision. Wonderful. Some people say the quality of the player is questionable--but it works fine for myself, and so does the one I got my dad...

    this will probably be modded as offtopic--which only makes my sig more ironic than usual...

    ---rhad

  • by niall2 (192734) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:27AM (#4097380) Homepage
    The idea here was to keep people in regions where a film had not been released from getting the film ahead of time. Once again the MPAA has the kneejerk reaction of stopping the flow of things. Just like when the VCR came out...how to keep people from reprodicing movies.

    I go to movies in the theater not because its the only place to see a film. I can wait for most films to be released on DVD before I truge off to the theater to stand in line and pay too much for popcorn. No I go to the theater to got the theater...to see Spiderman on a 36 YARD diagonal screen. Film is much more engrosing not having a pause button.

    This is also obvious when you see how rare the MPAA rereleases great films. How many out there who own 2001 on DVD would pay to see it on the big screen. I'm sure we could come up with a list of hundreds of films they could put back out and have people flock to see them (think about how much better the summer would be if you knew there were going to be some good films that you could look forward to in addition to the list of ones you hope will be good like MIBII).

    I think overall the real problem with the MPAA and the RIAA for that matter is they are in it for the money...not for the art. Yes the money may currently be in getting the 13-21 year olds into the seats, but if they tried to focus on the art rather than the product they might just be able to get the rest of us in there a little more often (and we'd still buy the DVD).
  • Wouldn't a simpler solution be to release a film on the same day in every region? I'm sure at the beginning it might be a bit of a logistical nightmare (what with a year of stuff to catch up on plus the whole global release thing) but over time (say 6 months) it wouldn't be much of a problem.

    It would also go some ways to curb the film downloading from the net. For example us Brits can actually go and see a film that's being shown in the US rather than having to wait just under a year for it to come out and (for some) be tempted to download it in that time.

    • There's a simple reason for this: there are a HUGE number of cinemas in the US. If the movie studios had to make tapes for all the cinemas in the world, it would cost them a load of money; so instead, they make tapes for the cinemas in the US, run the film until its run ends, get the tapes back, clean them up, and send them to other countries. The number of tapes used in the US is enough to cover several smaller countries.
    • >Wouldn't a simpler solution be to release a film on the same day in every region?

      They did this for Austin Powers, I believe, and also the latest Star Wars?
      Matt
  • Unlike Europe, in the US most TV's aren't capable of displaying PAL AND NTSC signals, only NTSC. Unless DVD player manufacturers start shipping their players with PAL->NTSC converters, I don't see that the loss off regional encoding will make much difference. We still won't be able to watch imports from europe.
  • by Hanno (11981) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:29AM (#4097397) Homepage
    While I also made my Samsung 811 player region-free using a simple button sequenceon the remote control, I never quite understood why these codes were _there_ and so _easy_ to find.

    Sure, DVD players are an international product and the region is selected after manufacturing a player.

    But those in the business who actually wanted the region protection to succeed could have easily forced the manufacturers to make region-hacks more difficult. Manufacturers could have been forced to actually lock the region-code some way or the other.

    E.g. the Pioneer 444 requires changing its firmware and it doesn't use firmware-upgrades through CDs as many of the Asian DVD players do, so making it region-free requires a lot more effort and cost. It's been hacked, as well, but it's pricy.

    So all in all, it seems almost as if the DVD player manufacturers did not want the movie industry's plan to succeed...
    • So all in all, it seems almost as if the DVD player manufacturers did not want the movie industry's plan to succeed...


      Close - but more like the DVD manufacturers want to make money with "exclusive" features.

      If it comes down to a choice between a) a DVD player for $99, or b) a DVD player that costs $99, but you've read about the "cheat codes", the manufacturer is hoping you'll vote for B.

      Manufacturers, to a large extent, care more about their customers than the movie industry. (I know that's not universal, and there's give and take. Last time I checked, though, I give more money directly to Apex than a movie studio does.)
    • by hyphz (179185) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:08AM (#4097685)
      They didn't. In the early days of DVD, the 'cheat codes' were always there because the DVD manufacturers knew it would put people off buying the disks. They only put the region coding in in the first place because it was mentioned in the license. The 'cheat codes' were a dodge around the license; the license presumably says that users shouldn't be able to turn the coding off, so they claim that the 'cheat codes' are maintenance access codes for callout engineers (which many appliances have), and aren't for users to use. But then there's no law restraining them from being distributed as long as the DVD company themselves didn't encourage it too blatantly.

      This kind of thing isn't uncommon; the early portable MiniDesc recorders from Sony could have their 'one-generation-only' copy protection turned off by entering a code on the front panel buttons.

      I don't think this is illegal even in the USA. In the UK and probably Europe it's directly plain; you can get multi-region DVD players in a supermarket (because they are cheap units from Asia which were region free in the first place), and there are commercial firms devoted to chipping players, which have gotten to seriously sophisticated levels now (change between regionless, auto adjusted locking, or locked to any region you choose; no macrovision; user prohibition override (ie, you can skip opening ads or studio screens); chip placed on a plug-in daughterboard so if the player breaks, you just pull the daughterboard then send it to Pioneer or whoever and there's no problem) and there's nothing illegal in it.
  • by lordpixel (22352) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:29AM (#4097398) Homepage
    If you ignore the possibility that they won't fit in the available MB because of the extra 30 minutes of outakes and inane commentaries, then the original idea was that DVDs could be sold with multiple soundtracks & subtitles thus reducing costs.

    In reality, 2 reasons are cited in defense of region coding:

    * fees for extras (commentaries, FOX tv "making-of" specials) are often negotiated per region. It would cost the studios some effort and $ to get permission for all of the pieces in every market, so they make a European version without all that stuff [1]

    * Censorship. Most European countries have their own version on the MPAA rating scheme. What's OK in the UK might not be in France, and vice versa. So there end up being a dozen different little cuts that have to be made to get the rating [2]

    My personal feeling is it exists to maintain the old price differentials. DVDs are more expensive outside of the UK. Most of the studios have a European distributor who fiddles with the artwork, replaces the [R] rating with a (18) logo etc. If you could just use the region 1 disk, all of the "value" these people add wouldn't be needed anymore. The middleman would have to adapt - and we know that unfortunately people often try to use a technical fix to prop up their existing revenue model.

    For a reverse example, the BBC usually region codes its TV shows. This is, I've heard, because it has a US distributor (Warner Home Video) who is supposed to get first refusal for all US releases - and they would feel threatened if people could just import what they wanted to watch when its released in the UK. So they mandate region coding. Not sure what would be in it for the BBC otherwise - its certainly a Hollywood studio thing.

    [1] the smart reader will have figured out you can do this whether you region code the disk or not.
    [2] once again the smart reader will be wondering how the hell this sort of granstanding by a few un-elected arbiters of taste is supposed to be beneficial in any way.
    • Censorship. Most European countries have their own version on the MPAA rating scheme. What's OK in the UK might not be in France, and vice versa. So there end up being a dozen different little cuts that have to be made to get the rating

      Wrong example. UK and France share the same region code 2 and both use the PAL system, so any French DVD will play just fine in the UK and vice versa.
    • I'll add another reason: movies are frequently released quite a bit later in Europe than in the US. The reasons are somewhat obscure, but part of the explanation (as I've understood it) is because of the need to subtitle or dub them. Another reason could be different seasonal patterns for movie releases. On the other hand, it's more and more important to get the DVD version out in stores soon after the movie ends its run, so people will have the title fresh and will want to buy it. Having region encoding means people can't just buy a release before it's even appeared in local movie houses.

      Yet another reason is that DVD:s are a lot cheaper in the US than in Europe. They also tend to have better picture quality. With the ease of buying stuff from overseas, they'll kill the ability to markup their product in these markets.

      One final reason is to stop 'grey imports' of stuff from one market to another, which would erode the market dominance of the distributors.

      In Europe (or at least in Sweden) this is moot; I don't think I've even seen a region-locked DVD player for sale in the last year. /Janne
  • Price Controls (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ezubaric (464724) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:30AM (#4097404) Homepage
    If region encoding fails, it's going to hurt people in poorer countries far more than it will us. Although it still will, if you import movies.

    Region encoding allows the studios to time the release of movies, sure. But it also allows them to sell the DVDs at different prices around the world. I just bought Der Herr der Ringe in Berlin for far less than I could in the US. People in Africa, Russia, and China get even better discounts.

    So while the US is used to paying $20 for a new DVD, if the region system breaks down . . .

    Everybody will have to pay the same equivalent amount of money. It probably won't affect the prices of Anime, though. A global economy, eh?
    • by Odinson (4523)
      " If region encoding fails, it's going to hurt people in poorer countries far more than it will us."

      Yea, if you really consider not being able to afford the Britney Spears Live video being hurt.

    • Re:Price Controls (Score:3, Insightful)

      by colmore (56499)
      Legit DVDs are dirt cheap in some countries to fight piracy. Even the MPAA knows that if a DVD costs more than the average worker's weeks' wage, then piracy is going to be rampant. Even if region encoding breaks down, they can't sell $20 DVDs in Russia.

      Prices might go up a bit in these countries, but a much more likely effect will be prices dropping in the US. Which sounds great to me. Ask yourself this: since DVDs cost about as much to license + manufacture as CDs, how can they justify selling them at double the cost? Especially considering that most movies have allready made enough in theater profits to completely cover the cost of manufacturing and promoting the DVD 100 times over.
  • by twoshortplanks (124523) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:30AM (#4097411) Homepage
    The BBC have a history of having "wonderful" graphics to go with their stories. In this case there's a picture of a Sky Digital (satalite) remote control, which I doubt very much could be used to reprogram a DVD player, and a grinning moron (no offence) with a N64 controller...

    At least it's not as bad as some [bbc.co.uk] bad [bbc.co.uk] examples [bbc.co.uk]. (links stolen from ntk [ntk.net]

  • Why, yes, that IS quite a leap of logic, but stay focused for a few minutes while I explain.

    A movie is released in the US, that is VERY controversial, but it's legal due to the 1st amendment. It's released through one of the bigger film companies, and they always stick with CSS, so they want to release it to Europe and Japan. But the governments of Germany, France, England and Japan have decided to outlaw the movie, because it's so controversial (think up a stupid reason, and it'll probably hold true), so the studio doesn't want to release it in Region 2 anyway, because it's simply not worth the effort with four of the largest countries and markets in the region outlawing it.

    So now the rest of the countries where censureship is expressly forbidden (like Denmark) are now effectively under censureship - from other countries no less; all because some schmuck in Hollywood wants to rule the world.

    Region Encoding is censureship and the powers that be knows it and loves it for that.
    • Very funny! Europe (with a couple of exceptions like the UK and Ireland) have much less censorchip of movies than the US! Many French or German movies contain very explicite sex scenes and don't get a porn rating.
      • Actually it probably wouldn't be that hard to get a movie banned in Europe, it just wouldn't be because of the visual content but because of the message of the movie. Just look at the reception of a game like Grand Theft Auto III has received in Europe. Off hand I can count no less than four countries that considdered banning it:
        UK, Germany, France and Norway(!!!)
        And that's just in the EU.
        • I live in France now and I can tell you that banning or censoring a movie in France is close to impossible. I have lived in the UK and the law is very different there, movies can easily be banned and are often censored to get a better rating. I think in Europe every country is different and has a different view of these things. Video games are seen as being only for kids (and they are not obviously) and there restrictions are seen as normal. You can also look at songs. AFAIK no song has ever been banned from broadcasting in France whereas it is very common in the UK.

          Anyway, I don't think censorchip is a primary reason of DVD region coding. It's all about money. What would you expect from Hollywood?
      • by Hanno (11981) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:25AM (#4097819) Homepage
        Europe have much less censorchip of movies than the US!

        Nope. Europe has a very different censorship than the US.

        We in Europe don't mind nudity or sexuality on screen - as long as it serves the story. (Porn is usually defined as nudity/sexuality without a plot. The French take this very literally - there are movies that show explicit sexual intercourse but that are not rated "porn" in France.)

        However, our censors get all giddy-up with violent / numb action movies.

        The US seems to be the other way round. Violence is ok, even in kid's movies, while a nipple can already be enough to qualify for an R rating. Eddie Murphy's "Boomerang" made a nice parody on this where an advertisement featured all sorts of atrocities, but a woman's breast was too much for the target audience...
  • by altgrr (593057) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:33AM (#4097435)
    If such a scheme had been introduced within the EU on such a device, such that say you couldn't play CDs purchased in France on a British CD player, this would be in breach of European trading laws.

    Why can't this be the same in the case of DVDs across the world? Because Hollywood thinks it has the right to delay release of films in different countries, to the extent that some UK-produced films are released in the US first.

    It's time to stop the media attempts at controlling the world, and start thinking around the problem - many people order DVDs direct from the US, but there aren't many companies that specialise in importing such DVDs and selling region-free players.
  • by MrR0p3r (460183) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:34AM (#4097443) Homepage
    Sometimes region encoding is a useful tool. I've seen a couple posts elude to the fact that it's good for subtitles, but if you're not going to fill the dvd with a full length movie and other extraneous junk, region encoding can be very valuable. We've just started authoring dvd's here at the office and I've recently found out that I can set different parts of the dvd to different region codes. Basically what this means is that if we build content for spain and we encode it for the spaniards' region, so they only see the spanish content, and we can also have a sperately encoded section (completely different content) for the USA in all english. This also enables us to specify content for different cultures, cause some people aren't down with the american way of life. It's a money saver, let me tell you. Sure dvd's aren't that expensive, but when you get into mass production costs, it saves alot in the long run to be able to encode the data all on one dvd instead of seperate ones for english/spanish/blah blah blah.
    • We've just started authoring dvd's here at the office and I've recently found out that I can set different parts of the dvd to different region codes. Basically what this means is that if we build content for spain and we encode it for the spaniards' region, so they only see the spanish content, and we can also have a sperately encoded section (completely different content) for the USA in all english.

      That's a bit of a pain for those Spanish people in the US, and those living in Spain who speak perfect english, isn't it?

      This also enables us to specify content for different cultures, cause some people aren't down with the american way of life

      And if you happen to be interested in a culture that's different to the one you're living in, you're out of luck, eh? Isn't learning about new cultures a good thing to do? Here's an idea: What about having all the content available to all regions, and let the user choose? Bit too radical, eh?

  • Region codes on a player are actually stored as a bit-field where having bit 'n' set means the player can play region 'n+1' disks. So-called 'multi-region' players allow the user to set this bit-field to 0xff and hence 'play all regions' [Note this means that 'Region 0' plyers are better termed 'Region 255' :)].

    Some of the bigger studios (notably Fox) are starting to use something called 'Region Code Extension' (RCE) on their disk. With this the first commands the DVD player find on the disc are (in pseudo code):

    let r = Region Code;
    if(r == 1)
    jump to movie
    else
    jump to naughty person page
    endif

    Where 'jump to naughty person page' jumps to a still-frame saying somthing like 'You can't play this disk in this region'. A multi-region player can't cope with this since it reports its region mask as 0xff so will still jump to the still-frame.

    Only a plyer set to play region 1, and only region 1 can play the disk. Hence to play it you need a DVD player which allows you to reset the region an arbitary number of times (rarer) rather than a 'multi-region' one (more common).

    Of course some Linux DVD players [sf.net] simply have a 'region' field in their config file which defeats this :)

  • NTSC/PAL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mattyohe (517995)
    Why not instead of region encoding they just stay with their current use of PAL encoding in the UK... i think its easier to break a region code than change to a different standard completely.
  • Control (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Restil (31903) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:48AM (#4097561) Homepage
    Region coding is about movie industry control. There simply is no other way to put it. They can scream bloody murder about decss being used to make pirated copies of their movies, and at least that has some small infitesimal nugget of truth to it.
    Region coding however, is not to prevent someone from using the product in an illegal manner, but to prevent someone from using a product in a legal, and more importantly PREFERED manner.

    People in other regions would prefer to purchase a DVD at a cheaper rate, and they could, but the cost has been artificially set such that it can't compete with other regions. Movies show later in countries outside of the US and the industry doesn't want to lose money on the theatre sales if the movie is already available on DVD.

    But unlike the descrambling issue, they can't scream bloody murder about piracy. Anyone and everyone that attempts to bypass region coding bought the movie. And if one DVD player comes out that is multiregion, once the price on it comes in line with other players, and it will, those other players will be unable to compete, especially in markets where the desire for a multi-region player is high. The other manufacturers WILL go multi-region as well, or they won't be able to compete. The DVD consortium won't like it, but they'll have to find a battlecry other than piracy to rally people to their cause.
  • Good article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Featureless (599963) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:49AM (#4097566) Journal
    This covers the subject pretty well, discussing the economics, sizes of markets, theoretical justification for region subdivisions, etc.

    DVD Region Coding [necg.com.au]

    Region coding is a perfect example of how the content production trusts abuse their special status. You see, our government, in its infinite corruptibility, has granted legal sanctity to the IP producer's content control systems. But the MPAA isn't just trying to use this new favor to prevent theft. They really see themselves as the natural owners of the whole transport layer and presentation medium, and they exploit it in any way possible - including with region coding, which (I suspect) allows them to sidestep the perils of free trade to further control prices.

    What gets me is that I don't even see region codes as a big loss for the MPAA; I'm curious about the substance of the price differences across region boundaries that this allows them to create. I understand that the movie industry is in the habit of doing theatrical releases months apart on different continents, and that this allows them to make sure that the American DVD does reach Australia before the movie hits theaters, but really, how often is that in danger of happening? I suppose there are cases where they decide some time after a release in one country to go for a release in another (probably based on sales figures)... But how much hardship are we really talking about, I wonder?
  • by jcam2 (248062) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:54AM (#4097595) Homepage
    The real reason behind region encoding is not
    to delay releases between different countries,
    but to maximise income. Movies (and many other
    kinds of intellectual property) sell at different
    prices in different countries, due to differences
    in purchasing power.

    A particular movie might make the most money
    when sold at $20 in the USA, but in Australia
    $10 might be the best price point. However,
    without region encoding there would be nothing
    to stop someone in the USA importing and
    re-selling movies from Australia. The end
    result would be that prices would be roughly
    the same in all countries.

    So if you live in a rich country, region
    encoding is a bad thing. But for citizens of
    poorer countries, it means that they are
    getting DVDs at cheaper prices than would
    prevail under total 'free trade'.

    So maybe the breakdown of region encoding
    isn't as good for consumers as you might
    first think ..

    • Movies (and many other kinds of intellectual property) sell at different prices in different countries, due to differences in purchasing power.

      Translation: The MPAA uses their monopoly powers to engage in price fixing.

      However, without region encoding there would be nothing to stop someone in the USA importing and re-selling movies from Australia. The end result would be that prices would be roughly the same in all countries.

      Yes; it's called a free market. In the process of prices becoming stable, money would flow into Australia to put them on equal economic footing with the countries they trade with. In short, the region encoding hurts Australia to benefit the MPAA.

      So maybe the breakdown of region encoding isn't as good for consumers as you might first think ..

      Keep thinking. Region codes aren't in place for the good of anyone but those that put them in place: the movie studios. Yet, as history has shown (e.g. the VCR) those same people are absolutely clueless when it comes to understand what business methods can help or harm them. The consumers actually do know better, and breaking region codes will likely end up benefiting the MPAA greatly, but I doubt they'll ever be thanking us.

  • but what about the legal one?
    In Switzerland, it's now illegal to distribute (as in selling, *not* copying) a movie without the explicit consent of the copyright holder for Switzerland. It seems we no longer have the right to choose what movie we want to see but we'll have to accept the small selection that are officially distributed here.
  • They don't give any evidence of the forthcoming "collapse", they just consider it's getting closer but don't add much element.
    Looks like hype to me even though the generalisation of the DVD-unlocks are a good but still unofficial.
    Alsoi, since Aug 1st, it has become forbidden (in Swiss) to import Zone [^2] DVDs, so, I'd say that such collapse might be postponed.
  • by frozenray (308282) on Monday August 19, 2002 @10:58AM (#4097624)
    Wholesale import of non-RC2 DVDs is forbidden by law in Germany and, since 1 August 2002, in Switzerland. I don't know about other countries, but the outlook for the EU is not good [eurorights.org].

    I can still legally import RC1 DVDs from the US as a private person here in Switzerland, but this takes time and is rather expensive because of overseas shipping and customs expenses. Stores such as MediaMarkt used to have a good assortment of RC1 DVDs at reasonable prices, but this is now illegal. Since the primary reason to switch to DVD for me was the possibility to see a movie in English with English subtitles, I have practically stopped buying DVDs locally (the RC2 versions are often missing features from the US releases, and the English language audio track has permanent German subtitles).

    Bottom line: Thanks to the industry's ridiculous policies, the money they get from me is down to about 1/3 of what it used to be. Maybe I'm the only one, but if not, they'll sure find a way to blame the slump in sales to "piracy" instead of acknowledging that they're shooting themselves in the foot.

    And, by the way: How is this compatible with the "free trade" idea so cherished by many politicians today? Does "free trade" really mean "free trade as long as we can profit from it"?
    • There is always a way:

      www.play.com free shipping in all European countries, and an absolutely fantastic selection of both R1 and R2 titles. And what's more important, since they are in Europe (Jersey Islands), you avoid the customs.

      Then there is dvdboxoffice.com which also has free shipping, this one WORLDWIDE, but I suspect that larger shipments (4 or more DVDs in a package) might attract the custom's attention. Expecially since DVDboxoffice.com are based in Canada. I use them if play.com doesn't have the title I am looking for.

      These two sites have been tried multiple times, never had one single complaint (and I have bought in excess of 200 titles).

  • by AftanGustur (7715) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:20AM (#4097788) Homepage


    Those of you who haven't yet figured out just how evil hollywood is, absolutely have to read this ! [landoverbaptist.org]

    Makes you wonder what this world is coming to !

  • by Demon-Xanth (100910) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:40AM (#4097917)
    I'm into anime a bit, and there's a LOT of anime that just never makes it to the US because it wouldn't be profitable. Some of it is quite good, others make it over only to get hacked to pieces by americanization.

    One upcoming example is a show called ".hack//SIGN" (pronounced .hack). It is an excellent show in Japan that will be released in the US by Bandai, the main character has already been renamed from "Tsukasa" to "Kite". And Bandai has made an OVA, which from what I hear is nothing short of a train wreck. Now remember that this is a show that's already on TV in Japan. Not a theatrical release.

    An example of a show that will NEVER make it to the US is "Puni Puni Poemi". If you wanna know what it's about just use your favorite search engine. Due to various themes that range from sexual to silly it just doesn't fit into any of the main stream US "catagories". "People" want either pr0n or silliness. "They" don't want both. Personally I found the show to be downright hilarious. Even though I wouldn't show it to any kids :)

  • by rainer_d (115765) on Monday August 19, 2002 @11:56AM (#4098016) Homepage
    I always considered (and still do) this region-encoding similar to the Volksempfänger we (Germany, then "Deutsches Reich", for the interested student) had from c.a. 1933 to 1945.
    These where radios that were only able to receive German radio-stations. No shortwave, no BBC nothing else.

    Granted, this was for obvious political reasons (and there were cinema-"commercials" educating the people not to listen to foreign radio-stations), but the possibility is there, still today.

    When will they limit the distribution of books ?
    When will a German book-shop be raided because he sells a US-bestseller not yet translated into German ?
    Think this is "impossible" ? Then think of Harry Potter and all the craze it created.

  • I found out about Sampo players thanks to a post in another story and I have to pass on the love...

    I've used Apex players and frankly, they are trash. Spend a bit more and get an easily hacked player that has a lot more features and is a *lot* better built... a Sampo!

    All the info you need is at Area 450 [area450.com]

    There is one particularly cool player they seem to like there that has a CF slot in it - and you can swap out that slot for a IDE hard drive if you'd like (to play back MPEGs, MP3s or JPEGS!) I didn't need that so I got the DVE661 for all of $160 pre-moded! (Gene Callahan rules! - see the pricing page on Area 450s site, he premod's players and sends them to you quite cheap!)
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday August 19, 2002 @12:30PM (#4098260) Homepage Journal
    ...legislation can't be far behind.

    keep an eye out for legislation making encoding mandatory, and backdoors for devices that are designed to primarily play dvds illegal.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday August 19, 2002 @12:31PM (#4098266) Homepage

    It's that because RC1 discs come out first, and are cheap, and have the most features, then they get bought by people outside RC1.

    Why is that bad?

    Because it artificially inflates the RC1 sales figures, which makes RC1 look even more important to the distributors, which makes them focus on it and keep pumping the cheap, early, heavily featured discs into it, while screaming that they have to protect markets ("won't somebody think of the artists

    Don't get me wrong, my UK based DVD player is pretty much set on region 1 (rather than 0, because of RCE) and most of my DVD collection is RC1, so I'm contributing to this. I'm just aware of it, and I hate that I'm helping to make it worse for everyone in future. :(

  • by hrm (26016) on Monday August 19, 2002 @01:12PM (#4098612)
    For people who are wondering about the picture of Homer Simpson with the caption "controversial advocate of dvd hacking" in the BBC article, read this article [bbc.co.uk].

    Basically, the UK fox site had a DVD faq section where Homer answers the question "what is regional coding?" with "I have no idea whatsoever what regional coding means, but it is essential that you buy a multi-region player. Do it now."

    Nowadays, Fox's UK Simpsons site, here [fox.co.uk], has Homer saying [fox.co.uk] "I have no idea what regional coding means. But if you find out, let me know. Don't worry, I'll still be waiting here when you get back."

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