DVD Region Codes - What You Need to Know

Not all DVDs play in all DVD players

Nothing has impacted home entertainment quite like DVDs. Although Blu-ray and Internet Streaming have taken a big bite out of DVD sales, millions of discs in circulation are being bought, sold, and viewed around the world.

DVD is the main reason the home theater experience has become popular, serving as a foundation for elevating video and audio quality.

However, DVD also has a dark side: Region Coding (also referred to as region lock).

DVD inserting into a laptop optical disk drive
kyoshino / Getty Images 

DVD Region Codes, or How the World Is Divided

DVD players and DVDs are labeled for use within specific geographical regions. The DVD world is divided into six major geographical regions, with two additional regions reserved for specialized use.

DVD regions are assigned as follows:

  • REGION 1 -- USA, Canada
  • REGION 2 -- Japan, Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Greenland
  • REGION 3 -- S.Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Parts of South East Asia
  • REGION 4 -- Australia, New Zealand, Latin America (including Mexico)
  • REGION 5 -- Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Africa
  • REGION 6 -- China
  • REGION 7 -- Reserved for Unspecified Special Use
  • REGION 8 -- Reserved for Cruise Ships, Airlines, etc...
  • REGION 0 or REGION ALL -- Discs are uncoded and can be played worldwide. However, you must play PAL discs in a PAL-compatible unit, and NTSC discs in an NTSC-compatible unit.

As you can see from the listed designations, the U.S. is in region 1. All DVD players sold in the U.S. meet Region 1 specifications, and Region 1 players can only play Region 1 discs. Region code numbers are on the back of each DVD package.

DVDs encoded for regions other than Region 1 cannot be played on a region 1 DVD player, and players marketed for other regions cannot play DVDs coded for Region 1.

The Reasons for DVD Region Coding

Why does DVD region coding exist? Coding is a tool to protect copyright and film distribution rights (in other words, movie studio profits).

Movies are sometimes released in theaters in different parts of the world at various times throughout the year. That summer blockbuster in the U.S. may end up being the Christmas blockbuster overseas. If that occurs, the movie's DVD version may be out in the U.S. while it is still showing in theaters in another region.

To preserve the financial integrity of the theatrical distribution of a particular film, a friend in the U.S. cannot send a DVD copy to the country where it is in theatrical release and be able to play it on a player there.

Region Coding - the Good and the Bad

Depending on who you are, region coding is a blessing or a curse. If you are a movie studio executive, not only do you reap maximum profits from the theatrical releases, but also the DVD releases for your film. However, if you are a consumer wanting to see a movie that is available on DVD in your relative's or friend's country but not in yours, you may have to wait quite a while.

Another suspected rationale for region coding is the possible price-fixing of DVDs depending on the region. Although difficult to prove, Australian and European courts have tried to reduce or eliminate region coding as a marketing practice. New Zealand does not offer legal protection for DVD region code restrictions.

The Code Free DVD Player Solution

For those consumers in Europe, Australia, and Asia, there is an abundant market for so-called Code Free DVD players, which are modified versions of stock DVD players in which the region coding function has been disabled.

With the magic of mail-order and the Internet, these players are widely available, even if not legal. The fortunate owners of these players can purchase DVDs from any region.

The following is a list of dealers that sell modified Code-Free DVD players.

The dealer listings are purely informational. We cannot vouch for the quality of the products and services offered. Make sure you get the answers to any questions you may have before you buy.

As a reaction to Code-Free DVD players' popularity, "Hollywood" has instituted another layer of coding on select Region 1 DVDs called RCE (Regional Coding Enhancement) to prevent select region 1 DVDs from playing on Code-Free DVD players. However, RCE is only implemented in some Region 1 discs, not discs from other regions.

Region Code Hacks

Another way to get around the DVD Region Code issue is to see if you can "hack" your current DVD player using a series of remote control commands to enable it to play DVD from other regions. The best online source for this information is the VideoHelp DVD Player Hack Forum.

If you type in the specific brand and model number of your DVD player in the VideoHelp DVD Hack search box, you may be able to access details on whether your DVD player can be made region code free. If you have a new player, and it is not on the list, check back periodically to see if it shows up.

Also, if you find that your DVD player is on this and there is a hack. One restriction might be that you can only change the DVD region feature a limited number of times before the player becomes permanently locked to a specific region. On the other hand, there are DVD players that can be made region code free without this restriction.

It is also important to point out that with Blu-ray Disc players, you may be able to make DVD playback region code free, but not Blu-ray disc playback, as Blu-ray follows a different region code scheme.

Region Code hacking your DVD player or PC is perfectly legal - but it may void your warranty.

The NTSC/PAL Factor

There is an additional hitch in the DVD Region Code madness. Since the analog video world is also divided into the NTSC and PAL video systems, the consumer may need a multi-system T.V. to access DVDs pressed in one of these systems. Although this is difficult in the U.S. market, where all analog video is based on the NTSC system, most consumers in Europe and some other parts of the world do own T.V.s that can view DVDs pressed in either NTSC or PAL.

The Consumer Impatience Factor

It's nice to purchase the latest blockbuster's DVD version a few months after the theatrical release. However, it's an inconvenience to wait another month or so if it means the film is still in theatrical release somewhere else in the world. If the movie is worthy, fans will wait for the DVD. There is no evidence that blockbuster DVD releases' sales suffer because of a long wait to get it.

The Real Beneficiaries of DVD Region Coding

The only entities that seem to be benefiting from DVD Region Coding are the movie studios and the marketers of Code-Free DVD players. Under this system, the marketers of the Code-Free players provide a practical solution for consumers. Even the International Space Station has to play DVDs code-free (for obvious practical reasons).

Home DVD Recording

With DVD recorders DVD recorder/VCR combos, and DVD camcorders for consumer use, the question comes up as to how they are affected by DVD Region Coding. The good news is that since DVD Region Coding is a commercial application, any DVD recordings you make on a consumer-based DVD recorder, DVD camcorder, or even a P.C., are not Region Coded. If you record a DVD in NTSC, it will be playable on DVD players in countries that use that system, and the same for PAL; there is no further region code restriction on home-recorded DVDs.

If you choose to implement Region Coding on your DVD recordings, you need access to the software or service that implements the region code designation.

The Bottom Line

There is a need for some region coding to protect movie release dates, but if issues such as price-fixing of DVD product is also involved, Hollywood may end up being in deep trouble on this one.

With the increase in communication and travel, information and entertainment available just about anywhere at any time, and perhaps Hollywood would is best served by releasing films and videos at the same time everywhere, which is becoming more common. Not only are consumers better served, but the cost of region coding and the need for after-market Code-Free DVD players become less desirable.

Now that you know about DVD region coding, that isn't the only dark side of DVD. There is also the issue of anti-copy encoding technology, but that is another story.