by John Walker
DVD Region Codes--The Studios Strike Back
So what's this "region code" stuff about, anyway? Well, you see, now that the world is becoming one big borderless net-wired marketplace, the Hollywood movie studios find themselves in a spot of bother with their usual movie release timetable. Hollywood pictures are typically first released in theatres in the U.S. and Canada; then subsequently in Europe and Japan; Southeast Asia; Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand; Africa, India, Pakistan, and the nations of the ex-Soviet Union; and finally (if at all) in China. By the time a film opens in a theatre in South America, it may have been available on video in the U.S. for many months. With earlier video media, language barriers reduced the likelihood of videos seeping out of the U.S. torpedoing the theatrical market in other countries, but since DVDs typically include multiple language soundtracks and subtitles, they pose a much greater risk to the studios. As a result, in return for supporting the DVD format, studios compelled DVD player manufacturers to incorporate a "region code", which causes players to refuse to play a disc intended for sale in a different market. Here's how imperial Hollywood divides the world into provinces.
region code for a given disc can usually be found as a small logo
on the back of the package, a Mollweide projection world map with
the region code digit superimposed. The logo at right is from a
DVD purchased in and coded for the United States (Region 1) which
contains soundtracks in English and French, with English, French,
and Spanish subtitles.
The logo at right is
from a DVD purchased in the French-speaking
region of Switzerland,
coded for Region 2, containing soundtracks in English, French,
and Italian, with English, French, Italian, and
Dutch subtitles. The actual DVD disc may also bear the region
code logo, but not all do. Note that region coding in many
circumstances prevents DVDs with multiple soundtracks from being
used as language learning aids. Many DVDs sold in North America
contain only English and French soundtracks (the latter a
requirement to sell in Canada). An individual in the U.S. who
wishes to improve, for example, their Spanish language skills,
cannot order a Spanish soundtrack DVD made for sale in Latin
America (Region 4), because it won't play on a Region 1 player.
Nor could the same person practice German comprehension with a
German language disc made for Europe, yet a person living in the
United Kingdom can play Region 2 discs in all of the
European languages, but not English-language discs purchased from
a merchant in the U.S.