Region Coding

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This page discusses region coding, region-based lockouts, and other producer-supplied controls that restrict the use of their media in certain geographical areas.

For DVDs, region coding refers to the assignment of a number representing a geographic region to a DVD. This prevents a DVD purchased in one part of the world from being played in a DVD player purchased in another part of the world. The specific region codes are:

  • 0 - No region; can be played on any DVD player anywhere in the world. Also denotes a DVD player that can play DVDs from any region.
  • 1 - USA, Canada, Bermuda
  • 2 - EU, Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Japan.
  • 3 - Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea
  • 4 - Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Latin America (except French Guiana)
  • 5 - Africa (except Egypt, South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland), Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan
  • 6 - China
  • 7 - Reserved for future use
  • 8 - Mainly for distant transportation venues in international skies and waters such as airplanes and cruise ships, though many of these just use the format and player type of the nation they serve the most.

Note that the DVD region coding also applies to PlayStation Portable UMDs and software.

For Blu-Ray discs, the regional codes are as follows:

  • A - The Americas and most of Asia
  • B - Europe, Australia, Africa and New Zealand
  • C - The former USSR, China and other parts of Asia not covered by Region A

Play Station 3 game media may optionally also adhere to Blu-Ray regional lockouts or model number queries, but all released games are region-free due to pressure from gamers and the governments of nations where regional lockout is deemed illegal.

However for most consoles, natural lockouts do exist due to differing television display formats (currently based on declining analog formats, which will most likely persist into the future despite the fact that they're not relevant with digital).:

  • NTSC-U/C for The Americas (and since the introduction of the Blu-Ray disc region scheme, some parts of Asia)
  • NTSC/J for Japan and most of Asia (whole of Asia before the introduction of the Blu-Ray regioning scheme)
  • PAL for Europe and Oceania
  • NTSC/C for China (introduced by Sony)
  • NTSC/K for Korea (introduced by Nintendo)

Studios do this to control release and distribution of a movie globally. A movie available on DVD in the United States may just be hitting theaters in Europe. This is weakly justified because it takes time to produce translations for foreign languages (except that the United Kingdom is classed as part of Europe and generally needs no translation), clear moral censorship standards, abide by copyright terms and pay local distributors around the world, and because region coding restricts nationals to the approved domestic version of a film.

Predictably, Region Coding was one of the first things cracked on DVDs, and was pretty much the first thing hackers set out to circumvent when Blu-Ray discs were released. It is also the number one legitimate reason people mod consoles, slightly ahead of "for running homebrew". Region-free DVD players are easily obtained online, while most other DVD players have service codes to disable region code checking. Like any DRM, though, it's still technically illegal to circumvent (in the United States, at least). It's completely legal in many other countries, but this may invalidate your warranty on some devices. (In Sweden, you just ask for a region-free set at the local vendor and you'll get it; but you will have to bring up the matter yourself; the salesclerk won't.)

(Note that region coding itself is illegal in some areas. The responsible bodies in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand have investigated whether it violated free trade agreements, found that it did, and therefore all DVD players sold in those areas are required to be region-free or at least have the ability to disable the lock. This doesn't appear to extend to video game consoles, though, at least in Australia's case.)

Examples of Region Coding include:
  • It's worth noting that video game consoles have had region coding since 1984. It was introduced there by Nintendo, theoretically to reduce pirated and unlicensed games on the system. However, it also serves as a huge barrier to Import Gaming, for much the same reasons as with home movies. Devices to maneuver around the region coding are also illegal, but popular to the point that such a device for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the first with such coding, still sells for a respectable amount.
    • The US version of the NES has a lockout chip called the 10NES. While its main reason of existence is to ensure that only games certified by Nintendo will run, it has the side-effect of region-locking the console, since various European consoles have different (and incompatible) versions of the chip. It also ended up using extra pins that're used by co-processors that're found on many Japanese games. Also, the Japanese NES has a slightly different slot, offering less pins than the NES (so in actual fact, the NES could actually implement co-processors given the extra pins, but ended up not doing so anyway).
    • The SNES actually had two plastic tabs that prevented Super Famicom cartridges from being inserted. A pair of pliers and devil-may-care attitude about warranty can fix that...
      • Wait, there are still SNES systems under warranty?
      • The Nintendo64 used tabs to region-lock as well. It's slightly more difficult to bust it's tabs, but a worthy investment.
    • Interestingly, this does not apply to early portable consoles. They lack region protection, on the theory that someone with one of these should be able to pick up a game for his system no matter where in the world he goes (the lack of a TV may have played a part, see below). For this reason, portables are extremely common amongst import gamers from any country. However, with today's portable consoles, companies combat these solutions with mandatory updates required to play games released from there on out.
      • The DSi has region locking, but only for specific DSi features, such as differing online features for each region. Future games will still be region-free, with the exception of downloadable ones.
      • The PSP has region coding as well, although it's optional for games. UMD movies are always region locked, and EA and Sony themselves have abused the feature when it comes to games and applications: EA used it to lock copies of Battlezone sold in Asia so that it would only play on Asian PSPs (probably because the game is sold at a lower price in the region), while Sony abused it so that Asian PSPs will not detect or launch the comic book viewer app, and so that only Japanese and British PSPs can use the Remote TV Viewer application for remotely watching content received and recorded by Play Station 3 USB tuner, which was only sold in the UK and Japan.
      • The Nintendo 3DS has introduced Region Lock on cartridge games, in hopes of combating piracy.
    • Strangely for home consoles, all PS3 games are region-free, and Xbox 360 region locking has always been at game publishers' discretion.
      • It should be noted that the Play Station 3 is a strange case. It was originally to feature optional region coding itself, using two different possible methods- the first was by Blu-Ray regional codes and the second more precise method is to query the model number of the Play Station 3- CECHx-yy for the original models where yy is the region code, and CECH-2xyyz for the slim models, where yy is the region code. In fact, the Play Station 3 still have the region coding mechanism intact (which it still uses on Blu Ray and DVD movies, as well as PlayStation 2 and PS 1 games, and also by some Play Station 3 games, but only for Country Switch purposes). Pressure from certain government parties, organizations and savvy users made them promise to not use the feature on Play Station 3 games and thus all discs are pressed as region free, as are PS 1 and downloadable games that are bought off the PSN store. Several companies have threatened region-locking Play Station 3 games in the past: Midway with John Woo's Stranglehold, Sega with Bayonetta, and EA with Army of Two. All of them backed down after public outcries and threats of boycott, with EA only limiting the Army of Two to multiplayer server segregation. However, very recently, North American consoles have started displaying a Netflix option, which is absent from other consoles. Could be justified that Netflix itself is region-locked, but still...
  • In the analog age, differing TV (and electrical) standards were used as a sort of de facto regional lock-in technology. Since NTSC (typically 60 Hz) and PAL/SECAM (typically 50 Hz) [1] hardware are completely incapable of dealing with content from the other system without absurdly expensive translation hardware, this kept import trade to a minimum. Many newer PAL/SECAM TVs now offer a special 60 Hz mode, and nearly every PC TV tuner/AV accessory has always supported all three standards. If all you've got are American TVs and set-top receivers, you're still hosed, though, unless you have a fairly expensive NTSC/PAL television.
    • It gets even more complicated. PAL, SECAM and NTSC are only color encoding standards (though they typically have a refresh rate attached, the refresh rate is actually optional. That's why there's bastard systems like 60 Hz PAL and 50 Hz NTSC). Ever wonder what are those letter suffixes that follows a system name when you look at the technical specifications page of a world multi TV manual? That's the transmission standard, which goes all the way from System A to System S. This is really where the TV resolution, refresh rate, and audio-visual frequency offset is defined. It's possible to mix and match transmission standard and color encoding standards, though PAL typically use B, D, E, G, H, I, K, M, N and NC, NTSC typically use M (though Japan's system could be arguably called NTSC-M'(M-prime) due to the slight luminance rating difference), and SECAM typically use B, D, G, H, K, K'(K-Prime) and L. And that's not counting abandoned systems like System A (which went through a brief trial period with all three color encoding standards by the BBC in the late 40s), and System S. Wait, there's more! This has nothing to do the the PAL, NTSC-J, NTSC/UC, NTSC-K and NTSC-C standards used for region locking game consoles. The latter bunch of imaginary NTSC variants were drummed up by marketroids to state what region code a game is for! You don't have to get confused tho- these don't really come into play as far as line input is concerned- only resolution and refresh rate are really important here with line input, and these systems should fall out of use as countries switch over to digital. On the other hand...
    • This continues into the digital age as well. DVB, ATSC, ISDB and DMB: These are the four digital systems deployed worldwide. DVB is used in Europe and most of Asia (except the handful of countries as said next), ISDB is used in South America, Japan and The Philippines, ATSC is used in North America and South Korea (the only Asian country using said system), and DMB is used in China. To further complicate matters, some countries may decide to adopt two or more systems, i.e., South Korea adopted both DMB and ATSC systems and broadcasts in both formats. And if a country decided to change system due to changes in political ties/technological progression, woe be upon the citizens of the country in question. To top it all off, HD images can be 24, 25 or 30 frames per second. Many early HDTVs, as well as cheaper monitors, will refuse to recognize 25 fps sources. Heck, even many new TV sets sold in the United States refuses to recognize 25 fps input.
  • The Internet is becoming the new battle ground for all this nonsense; companies who are uploading shows to watch online will more likely than not make it a nightmare to watch their stuff if you're not in their region. Some of this makes sense (The BBC will be legally murdered if they release their stuff outside the United Kingdom), some are just annoying (yeah, no one has the rights to Fist of the North Star in the United Kingdom, Toei) and others fly in the face of all common sense.
    • All work and no Hulu make rest of world a dull boy.....
      • Although Hulu is trying to expand beyond the United States. Let's hope they're successful.
        • Up until today, Germany is the only one other country outside the US that Hulu would stream to...
      • Youtube allows videos to be region locked by uploaders if they so wished.
    • The BBC iPlayer and CatchUpTV is this to the rest of the world. In the case of the BBC it is funded by a license that every UK household has to pay in order to legally watch broadcast television. So the reason for restriciting it to the UK is justified. i.e you haven't paid to see it.
      • There is a bit of a loophole though. You're only required to have a TV license to watch broadcast television, or live streams from the BBC such as sporting events. Anyone in the UK can still legally access everything on iPlayer without paying for a TV license as long as they don't own a TV and avoid the live streams.
    • And so is the Australian equivalent, The ABC's iView. This one's a bit of a wallbanger because Australians were never required to pay for a license to watch TV, and it's the policy of the ABC to freely offer its content. The ABC pinned the blame on licensing issues on the blockage screen- fair enough, we assume that ABC has to agree to some archaic licensing contract that among other things prevents them from offering otherwise-premium programming outside Australia, given that it does have a fair amount of premium imports that it offers for free to Australian residents. The violation of common sense part? Even shows The ABC produced themselves are also blocked to non-Australians on the site.
  • Videos on The Hub are region-locked to only the US as well, to the ire of fans of many cartoons based around Hasbro's franchises but are unlucky enough to live in places where the shows are not available through legal means for whatever reason.
  • Many MMOs have a variation of this that prevent you from playing the game if it detects that you are playing on an internet connection outside of its region.
    • Depends on the company and the MMO. An example of this is Nexon and Maple Story, in which the version North America plays is the "Global" version, which can be played by any country or region that doesn't have a company that localized it. However, when it said area does get their own version, they eventually receive an IP filter from the Global edition so that any new players play their region's version instead. But even then there is some leniency, as Nexon will allow players who registered and played Global before a certain date to continue playing it in addition to their localilzed game.
      • The boneheaded part of the filter tho: those who can play global can also choose to sign up with some regional versions of the game, but those who can not sign up for global can only play the game in their own region. For example, someone in Australia (should be playing on the Global server proper) can sign up for both Global and the South-East Asian (SEA) version of the game (assuming he/she has the capability to install both clients side-by-side). On the other hand, someone in Malaysia is region-locked to playing only the SEA version of the game. This is because the SEA version does not request for identification aside from an address which can be easily faked.
    • Korean websites and MMO hosts are required by law to scrutinize every user who registers to them. This is generally done by requiring the user to input his real name and Korean resident registration number, and submit a copy of his ID card or other legal document. As a "side effect", people not from Korea are unable to register to their sites.
  • Certain online stores only accept certain credit cards from within their own country, effectively restricting business to domestic sales only.
    • Amazon region locks the Unbox service, Android App Store and MP3 store to the country the store is in. You can't buy anything unless your IP address belongs to an ISP in the country the store is in.
    • While the apps themselves aren't region coded (but is DRM locked), Apple's App Store is somewhat irrationally segregated as well. Heard of a cool app? Chances are you can't download it because it's not available in the App Store of the country you're in. Irrational because sometimes an app from a developer may not be available on sale while other apps from the same developer are, and sometimes, an app featuring characters from a TV show will not be available even if said TV show is in fact airing in the country. Yes, there is a form to request Apple to make said apps available, but if the developers refuses for any reason, it still won't be. Either way, you're shafted.
  1. PAL and SECAM are also different systems. And well, as noted below, it gets more complicated