Motion picture studios want to control the home release of movies in different countries because cinema releases are not simultaneous worldwide. Movie studios have divided the world into six geographic regions. In this way, they can control the release of motion pictures and home videos into different countries at different times.

A movie may be released onto the screens in Europe later than in the United States, thereby overlapping with the home video release in the U.S. Studios fear that copies of DVD discs from the U.S. would reach Europe and cut into theatrical sales. Also, studios sell distribution rights to different foreign distributors and would like to guarantee an exclusive market.

Therefore, they have required that the DVD standard include codes that can be used to prevent playback of certain discs in certain geographical regions. Hence, DVD player is given a code for the region in which it is sold. It will not play discs that are not allowed in that region. Discs bought in one country may not play on players bought in another country.

A further subdivision of regional codes occurs because of differing worldwide video standards. For example, Japan is region 2 but uses NTSC video compatible with that of North America (region 1). Europe is also region 2 but uses PAL, a video system not compatible with NTSC. Many European home video devices including DVD players are multi-standard and can reproduce both PAL and NTSC video signals.

Regional codes are entirely optional for the maker of a disc (the studio) or distributor. The code division is based on nine regions, or “locales.” The discs are identified by the region number superimposed on a world globe. If a disc plays in more than one region it will have more than one number on the globe. Discs without codes will play on any player in any country in the world.

Some discs have been released with no codes, but so far there are none from major studios. It is not an encryption system; it is just one byte of information on the disc which recognizes nine different DVD worldwide regions. The regions are:

■ Region 0 – World-wide; no specific region encoded
■ Region 1 – North America (Canada, U.S., U.S. Territories)
■ Region 2 – Japan, Western Europe, South Africa, Middle East (including Egypt)
■ Region 3 – Southeast Asia, East Asia (including Hong Kong)
■ Region 4 – Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Central America, South America, Caribbean
■ Region 5 – Former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Russia, Indian Subcontinent, Africa (also North Korea, Mongolia)
■ Region 6 – China
■ Region 7 – Reserved
■ Region 8 – Special international venues (airplanes, cruise ships, etc.)

In hindsight, the attempt at regional segregation was probably doomed to failure from the start. Some of the region standards proved more complicated to finalize than was originally expected.

There were huge variations in censorship laws and in the number of different languages spoken across a region. This was one of the reasons why DVD took so long to become established. For example, it is impossible to include films coded for every country in Region-2 on a single disc.

This led the DVD forum to split the region into several sub-regions. And this, in turn, caused delays in the availability of Region-2 discs. By the autumn of 1998 barely a dozen Region-2 discs had been released compared to the hundreds of titles available in the U.S.

This situation led to many companies selling DVD players that had been reconfigured to play discs from any region. For several years now games console manufacturers (Nintendo, Sega and Sony) have been trying to stop owners from playing games imported from other countries.

Generally, whenever such regional standards were implemented it took someone only a few weeks to find a way around it, either through a machine modification or use of a cartridge adapter.

In real terms, regional DVD coding has cost the DVD Forum a lot of money, delayed market up-take, and allowed third-party companies to make a great deal of money bypassing it.

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