An aside about region coding of DVDs

I was talking to my son Isaac this afternoon, the subject of gaming came up, and somewhere in the conversation he mentioned that the Sony PS3 was going to be free from region coding, and how good that was.
And I thought to myself, how odd. I grew up with 33 rpm albums and 45 rpm singles, and I could buy them anywhere and play them anywhere. We even had 78 rpm “lacquer” platters, and these played everywhere as well. So I can listen to William Booth talk to his troops on my 1905 mechanical gramophone, T.S. Eliot read his poems on a 33 rpm 12″ “LP” and the latest “vinyl” single from the Arctic Monkeys, all without worrying about region coding.

Why stop with records? I had no problem with reel-to-reel tapes and cassette tapes and even CDs. The first time I hit the oddness of region coding was with my son’s console games, on an early Nintendo I think, and soon after that we had the DVD debacle that continues.

DVD region encoding offers less than zero value to the consumer; allows for unnecessary price and time discrimination between markets; promotes piracy and illegal copying as a result of those discriminations; provides no incremental value to the artist(s).

DVD encoding was brought into existence pretty much by stealth, most of us found out about it after the event. Which was probably a good thing, since it woke me up to the dangers of bad DRM and bad IPR just at the right time.

Because of the stealth approach, many people have no idea what the regions are. I thought it would amuse you to see the actual regions. Looks like a political map of something in Second Life….


4 thoughts on “An aside about region coding of DVDs”

  1. I always found the region code map very funny. Australia shares a code, not with Asia, but with Latin America. India shares a code with Africa, oh except for South Africa which shares a code with the Middle East.

    The reason I read, several times for the codes regions was to reflect market sizes – but they don’t reflect the way the markets function.

  2. A DRM-infected system is indistinguishable from a broken system. The good news is that New Zealand has quietly figured the problem out. (They speak English, but don’t get many English-language DVDs in their “region”.)

    I think the International Space Station is still “illegal” — there’s supposed to be a separate region for international waters and other outside-a-country travel, but they were running a US-region DVD player at one point.

    Small computer/AV services businesses will get just as much work as a result of DRM as they do as a result of bad manuals, confusing interconnects, and dumb security designs.

  3. The entertainment industry has erected the most Byzantine system of rules, regulations I am aware of. I’m not an expert but when I meet with one they make it clear how intractable and beyond the imagination the whole thing is for those that wish to do something the right way.

    It’s the sort of thing that makes artistically concerned and law abiding people go out and buy some device that let’s them get around crazy rules. We have a DVD collection which we bought and paid for in American and now live in France. Are we supposed to go out and buy them again? Of course not. One gets a “dezoned” DVD player and goes from there.

    Over time I expect individuals and companies will need to spend much more time understanding and figuring out how to deal directly with abrogations of their rights and privacy by media, governments and the technologies that make it possible.

  4. I read sometime ago that region codes were put in place in anticipation for laws that ‘might’ be passed to protect DRM in countries that manufactured DVD players giving them rights to film production.

    This clearly did not materialise and now region encoding is simply an annoyance and a legacy battle much like IPX/SPX versus TCP/IP which we all got over with ease albeit having to plumb in Gateways (now there’s an antique) to convert protocols. I remember having to mess around with .ini files to provide Microsoft/Novell integration. [Utilmately ensuring that corporate infrastructures were complex and costly and of course lucrative for Integrators and VaRs.] Now they are all history!

    Nowadays, a region chip is a simply, cheap commodity but somehow Sony, Ninetendo and of course Microsoft try to forget that the same generation they tried to trip up in the early days still exist and are the buying power for our kids which are their main taget market.

    Blue Ray versus HD-DVD is just another Betamax versus VHS. When will they accept harmony?

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