Region Coding for DVD and Blu-ray Discs
This page discusses how region coding works for DVD and Blu-ray discs and how it can be defeated.
Introduction to Region Coding
Manufacturers of DVD and Blu-ray players and player software are required by their license to include functionality called region coding. Using region coding, a DVD or Blu-ray disc may be permitted to be played only in one geographic region, several regions, or all regions. Major commercial DVD releases are typically playable in only one region. Major commercial Blu-ray releases, however, have been more permissive with some releases restricted to one region while others are playable in all regions.
Region coding allows movie studios to accomplish two important tasks. First, they can enforce staggered release dates for DVD and Blu-ray discs to protect theater revenues in certain markets. Second, they can enforce pricing schemes that allow the discs to be sold at different prices in different countries.
In the next sections, we will go over how region coding works for DVD discs and then for Blu-ray discs. Finally, we will discuss how to defeat region coding and achieve region-free playback.
How region coding works for DVD discs
The region code scheme for DVD comprises 8 regions, as shown in Figure 1.
|1||United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, and some islands in the Pacific|
|2||Japan, western Europe (including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Balkans), South Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East (including Iran and Egypt)|
|3||Southeast Asia (including Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Macau)|
|4||Australia, New Zealand, South America most of Central America, western New Guinea, and most of the South Pacific|
|5||Most of Africa, Russia, (and former Soviet states), Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, North Korea|
|6||China and Tibet|
|8||Special non-theatrical venues (airplanes, cruise ships and hotels)|
Region coding for DVDs is implemented at the drive level, with all DVD drives made since early 2000 required to implement region coding. Drives which enforce region control are known as RPC-2 ("region protection control"), while drives which do not are known as RPC-1.
In practice, an RPC-2 drive maintains a record of its current region setting in non-volatile firmware. Each time you put a disc into the drive that has a region code which differs from the drive's current setting, you will be prompted by the player to change the region on the drive. Even if you don’t attempt to play the disc, the drive will lock the data and not allow you to read the disc until you change the region. Typically, you can change the region on your RPC-2 drive a maximum of 5 times, after which the region is frozen and can no longer be changed.
Region Control Enhanced (RCE)
Drive level region control only applies to pre-recorded DVD discs, not to recordable discs. In an effort to close this loophole, the studios introduced a system called "Region Control Enhanced" (RCE). In RCE, the DVD player software reads the current region setting of the drive upon startup and provides this information to programs that run off of the disc. The RCE DVD includes a small program on the disc that queries the player to find the current region and refuses to play if the region does not match stored settings on the disc. RCE programs are now commonly included on major release discs as an additional protection measure.
How region coding works for Blu-ray discs
The region code scheme for Blu-ray comprises 3 region codes, as shown in Figure 2. Unlike in the case of DVD releases, Blu-ray discs that play in regions A, B, and C are common.
|A||North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia|
|B||Europe, Greenland, French territories, Middle East, Africa, Australia and New Zealand|
|C||Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Central and South Asia|
Blu-ray does not enforce region coding at the drive level. There are generally no restrictions on reading the data off of the disc even if the player and drive do not have matching regions. If the drive is a combination Blu-ray and DVD drive, however, it is possible that the drive may be RPC-2 region-locked for DVD playback but not for Blu-ray.
Blu-ray region control operates in a similar way to RCE on DVD discs. The Blu-ray player software allows programs that run from the disc to query the player to determine the player region. If the region does not match the disc, the program instructs the player to display a message saying that there is a region mismatch and that the disc cannot be played.
How to defeat region coding
Defeating DVD drive-level region coding involves converting an RPC-2 drive into an RPC-1 region-free drive. To do this, a patched version of the drive firmware is required. The online community has been very active in releasing patched firmware for a wide variety of computer DVD drives. The main site for this type of patching is the The Firmware Page. This site also includes numerous utilities to help with patching and an archive of patched firmware for a large number of drives.
Unfortunately, while RPC-1 patched firmware is available for most combo CD/DVD drives, the number of patches for combo Blu-ray/CD/DVD drives is still quite low. It may be wise to check which drives have patches available before making a purchase.
Defeating DVD RCE and Blu-ray region coding requires ripping the disc to modify the data. The now region-free disc can then be played off of a hard drive or burned back to a recordable disc. Some ripping tools such as AnyDVD (Windows), MacTheRipper (Mac), and others can remove the region coding as part of the ripping process.
You can purchase region-free standalone DVD and Blu-ray players in a variety of stores. In the US, examples include International Video and Electronics, World Import, and J&R Electronics. When purchasing such a player, make sure that the player supports video system conversion if you plan to view PAL (25 fps) video on an NTSC (30 fps) display, or vice-versa.
To our knowledge, there are no legal restrictions that prevent you from patching your player or drive to make it region free, or from purchasing or using a region-free player or drive.