What Are Regional Codes, Country Codes, or Zone Locks?

Motion picture studios want to control the home release of movies in different countries because theater releases aren’t simultaneous (a movie may come out on video in the United States when it’s just hitting screens in Europe).

Also, studios sell distribution rights to different foreign distributors in order to guarantee an exclusive market. Therefore, they required that the DVD standard include codes to prevent the playback of certain discs in certain geographical regions.

Each player is given a code for the region in which it’s sold and will refuse to play discs that are not coded for its region. This means that a disc bought in one country may not play on a player bought in another country.

Some people believe that region codes are an illegal restraint of trade, but no legal cases have established this. Regional codes are entirely optional for the disc maker to include. Discs without region locks will play on any player in any country. It’s not an encryption system; it’s just one byte of information on the disc that the player checks.

Some studios originally announced that only their new releases would have regional codes, but so far almost all Hollywood releases play in only one region. Region codes are also a permanent part of the disc, and they won’t unlock after a period of time. Region codes don’t apply to DVD-Audio, DVD-ROM, or recordable DVDs.

Seven regions (also called locales) have been established and each one is assigned a number. Players and discs are often identified by the region number superimposed on a globe. If a disc plays in more than one region, it will have more than one number on the globe. The region codes are as follows:

  1. U.S., Canada, and U.S. Territories
  2. Japan, Europe, South Africa, and Middle East (including Egypt)
  3. Southeast Asia and East Asia (including Hong Kong)
  4. Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean
  5. Eastern Europe (Russia), Indian subcontinent, Africa, North Korea, and Mongolia
  6. China
  7. Reserved
  8. Special international venues (airplanes, cruise ships, and so on)

See the map at www.blackstar.co.uk/help/help_dvd_regions.

Technically, no such thing as a region zero disc or a region zero player exists. However, an all-region disc does exist, and all-region players are available as well. Some players can be hacked using special command sequences from the remote control to switch regions or to play all region codes.

Some players can be physically modified (or chipped) to play discs regardless of the regional codes on the disc. This usually voids the warranty, but it is not illegal in most countries, because the only thing that requires player manufacturers to region-code their players is the Content Scrambling System (CSS) license.

Many retailers, especially outside North America, sell players that have already been modified for multiple regions, or in some cases they simply provide instructions on how to access the “secret” region change features already built into the player.

As an interesting side note, on February 7, 2001, NASA sent two multiregion DVD players to the International Space Station (read about it at www.techtronics.com/uk/shop/510-nasa.html).

Extensive information about modifying players and buying region-free players can be found on the Internet (see Chapter 6’s “DVD Utilities and Region-Free Information”). In addition to region codes, differences in discs for NTSC and PAL TV systems also exist.

Some discs from Fox, Buena Vista/Touchstone/Miramax, MGM/Universal, Polygram, and Columbia TriStar contain program code that checks for the proper region setting in the player. (There’s Something About Mary and Psycho are examples.)

In late 2000, Warner Brothers began using the same active region-code-checking system that other studios had been using for over a year. They called it region code enhancement (RCE, also known as REA), and it received much publicity.

RCE was first added to discs such as The Patriot and Charlie’s Angels. “Smart discs” with active region checking won’t play on code-free players set for all regions (FFh), but they can be played on manual code-switchable players that enable you to use the remote control to change the player’s region to match the disc.

Smart discs also may not work on autoswitching players that recognize and match the disc region. It depends on the player’s default region setting. An RCE disc has all its region flags set so that the player doesn’t know which one to switch to.

The disc queries the player for the region setting and aborts playback if it’s the wrong one. A default player setting of region 1 can fool RCE discs from region 1. Playing a region 1 disc for a few seconds sets most auto-switching players to region 1 and thus enables them to play an RCE disc.

When an RCE disc detects the wrong region or an all-region player, it usually puts up a message saying that the player may have been altered and that the disc is not compatible with the player.

A serious side effect is that some legitimate players fail the test, such as the Fisher DVDS-1000. RCE’s first appearance caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but DVD fans quickly learned that it only affected some players (www.dvdtalk. com/rce.html).

Makers of player modification kits that didn’t work with RCE soon improved their chips to get around it. For every higher wall, there is a taller ladder.

Region codes do not apply to DVD-Audio. In general, region codes don’t apply to recordable DVDs. A DVD that you make on a PC with a DVD burner or in a home DVD video recorder will play in all regions (but don’t forget NTSC versus PAL differences).

Regional codes also apply to game consoles such as PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but only for DVD-Video (movie) discs (see DVDRegionX.com for region modifications to PS2). PlayStation has a separate regional lockout scheme for games.

When it comes to DVD-ROM computers, only DVD-Video discs are affected by regional codes, not DVD-ROM discs containing computer software. Computer playback systems check for regional codes before playing movies from a CSS-protected DVD-Video.

Newer RPC2 DVD-ROM drives let you change the region code several times (RPC stands for region protection control), but once an RPC2 drive has been changed five times, it can’t be changed again unless the vendor or manufacturer resets the drive.

The Drive Info utility can tell you if you have an RPC2 drive (it will say “This drive has region protection”). Since December 31, 1999, only RPC2 drives have been manufactured.