Friday, October 21, 2011

DVD Lockouts

Compared to video games, DVDs that play movies and TV shows are much more popular and because of this, they are much more sensitive when it comes to international sales and distribution. Games and consoles are only distributed in countries where sales are actually anticipated, such as North America, Japan, and Europe, but movies and TV are made and watched around the world and many that are popular enough in America are shown internationally.

Unlike video games which have 4 regions, DVDs are (currently) released in 6 regions:
1 U.S. , U.S. Territories, Canada, Bermuda
2 Europe, Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa
3 Southeast Asia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau
4 Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, South America, Australia, New Zealand
5 India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Ukraine, Africa (Non-Region 2), South Asia, North Korea
6 China

Other than these 6, there are other region codes used on DVDs. Region code 7 is currently reserved for future use. Region Code 8 is used for airlines and cruise ships. The unofficial “Region 0” is for region free disks. Since all region codes work as flags stored as “true” or “false” (or 1 or 0) instead of a specific value, it is possible for disks and players to support multiple regions at once. For example, “region 0” disks have flags 1 through 6 set as “1” so they’d be playable in all international regions.

There are many types of devices that can play DVDs or similar media, and most of them work in different ways regarding region coding. The standard player simply checks the DVD and compares it to its own internal code. Recent game consoles are able to also play DVDs and so use DVD region codes separate from their video game region codes. Most modern personal computers have built in DVD drives which are slightly flexible. DVD drives use an internal region code but are also able to change their code when a foreign disk is inserted, though it will only do this up to five times before it permanently locks to the last code used.

Blu-ray disks are far more lenient regarding region coding. Instead of the six (or eight) DVD regions, blu-ray uses only 3:
A North, Central, South America, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea
B Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Greenland
C Central and South Asia

Even more lenient than this, most studios and distributing companies are releasing disks region free.

Closed Borders and Open Secrets

edit (10/27/2011):

Game Lockouts

As mentioned before, the NES and other games consoles as well as several DVD players use some sort of a region coding system. These systems could need to be listed for what is region locked or not.

Most early, cartridge based systems mainly used chips to prevent game from a different region from playing, but some others just used different cartridge shapes or connection pin sets (how the console communicates with or reads the cartridge). The earlier consoles, generations three through five, that were region locked were NES, Sega Master System, Super NES, and Playstation. Also among consoles from these generations, there were some with some form of lockout, but weren’t regionally locked to a degree. The Nintendo 64 used a lockout chip like the 10NES but only to play approved games and not for region codes. The Sega Saturn did use region codes, but most copies of games were playable on consoles from multiple regions.

The recent two generations are where regional lockout is most present. Of generation five, all of them are region locked: Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation 2, and Xbox. The latest, seventh, generation of console is slightly more lenient on region codes. The Nintendo Wii is completely region locked. The Xbox 360 is locked, but much of its game library isn’t restricted and playable in multiple regions. The Playstation 3 isn’t itself region locked, but backwards compatible models are locked for PS2 games. Four of these, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox, and Xbox 360, also play DVDs, so those are also locked by DVD regions (mentioned later).

Most handheld consoles, such as the various Game Boys and the Game Gear, weren’t region locked, but more recently newer systems are being locked. The Nintendo DS wasn’t originally locked, but the Nintendo DSi, DS games released after it, and the Nintendo 3DS are locked. The Playstation Portable is region locked but only for movies played on its Universal Media Disks (UMD) as according to DVD regions. When the Playstation Vita comes out, it will be region free and no longer supports UMDs.

The recent consoles and their games are released among 4 regions: Japan and Asia (NTSC-J), North America (NTSC U/C), Europe and Oceania (PAL, PAL/E), and China (NTSC-C).

Playstation Forums

edit (10/27/2011):

Friday, October 14, 2011

Regional Lockout Definition & History

Regional Lockout is a practice used by media distribution companies to control the sales of DVDs and games internationally. This is usually implemented through a chip or code in the player or console that checks the disk or cartridge for a specific code will refuse to play it if the code doesn't match.

The first system to use a lockout system was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The NES used a chip called 10NES to not only prevent it from playing games released on the Japanese Famicom, but also enforced only allowing games approved by Nintendo to be playable. Though some people found ways of getting around the chip or copying it. Most cartridge-based systems that used a lockout system used chips much like this. Disk-based consoles and DVD players have region codes written on the individual disks.

The various purposes of using region coding include price control, content control, and scheduled releases. Because different countries have different economies, not everyone is as willing to pay the same as anywhere else. So countries that are generally poorer or have a lesser interest in these forms of media sell them at a lower price, but if these weren't region coded, someone could import them cheap. Different countries also have differences in what's appropriate and rate them differently. Region coding ensures that in a more strict country, such as Australia, certain media is only available in an edited form or not at all to avoid legal problems.

Region coding, in summary, is used to prevent certain inappropriate content from being distributed where it is unwelcome and can make sure the companies are able to make a profit.

Closed Borders and Open Secrets
The Infamous Lockout Chip

edit (10/27/2011):

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Media Without Borders: Introduction

For most people that collect DVDs and games, they mainly collect ones released domestically or within their country. These collectors are unaware of a system that is used in these disks and the systems that run them. Though, anyone who is interested in foreign DVDs and games would have trouble with this system called "regional lockout".

Regional lockout is the system used by distributors of DVDs and games to control sales in other countries or regions. This system uses codes written on the individual disks and the players and consoles that run them. If a code on a disk doesn't correspond with a player, the player will refuse to play them and force them to be incompatible.

Regional lockout primarily benefits the distributors and publishers of these media regarding international sales as well as protecting them regarding different countries customs and laws. For those who do want to collect foreign DVDs and games or at least ones that just aren't available in their region, this system can be very aggravating and potentially expensive.

I'm particularly interested in Japan, its culture, and its media mostly anime and games. Because of this, I'm personally interested in the topic of regional lockout, but the main source I find on it is Wikipedia (whose own references are different articles on specific game consoles) or random forum posts. I intend to use this blog to be informative about it explaining some of the virtues and faults of the system. I admit that I am personally biased against regional lockout and wish that it would be abolished or removed in future releases of players and game consoles. But for the more informative sections, I intend to keep a balanced perspective explaining the topic.