My brother travels the world and recently he’s been buying and sending me rare DVD movies that he picks up on his travels. Which would be fine if only I could play them. I don’t want to admit it to him, but neither my DVD player nor my computer can handle PAL disks and they also complain about me being in the wrong region. Is there some sort of savvy solution?
There is, fortunately, a good solution to this dilemma, one that might be slightly on the gray edge of the law, but it turns out that there are many DVD players that have built-in PAL/NTSC converters and the ability to ignore regional encoding.
But let’s start with some explanations. There are three main TV encoding systems, SECAM (used in Asia), PAL (used in Europe) and NTSC (used in North America). They each have advantages and disadvantages, but mostly they’re just incompatible. Without a converter, sending the wrong signal to a a TV from a DVD player, say an NTSC TV getting a PAL signal, simply produces noise.
DVD movies are further protected with a regional encoding. The world is broken into six regions:
- North America (including United States and Canada)
- Western Europe and Japan
- Southeast Asia
- South America and Australia
- Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia
The intent is that if you are based in one region but try to play a DVD from another region it’ll be rejected and unviewable.
The intent is to ensure that the $2 commercial DVDs you can buy in other countries don’t supplant the $25 DVDs available for sale in the United States. Good for the video production companies and the movie studios, but not so good for us consumers who might well be interested in movies available overseas but not here in the North American market.
I have exactly this problem myself because I like movies that just aren’t available in the US, and sometimes even shop at Amazon.UK to see what versions they have versus the US movies. How to play them?
Fortunately there are a number of solutions. The first and perhaps easiest is simply Google your DVD model number and “unlock codes”. A surprising number of different DVD players, particularly the lower-end units, can be unlocked through secret sequences like “open tray, press 6, 7, 3, OK on remote, then choose Region 0”.
Sound like too much work? You can actually buy pre-unlocked DVD players from a variety of online vendors, though most of them seem to be rather questionable companies. But then again, since it might be illegal to have a region-free DVD player since it circumvents video protection schemes, maybe it’s no surprise that Sony doesn’t highlight it on their Web site!
A few years ago, I bought a Philips DVP-642 region-free DVD player (as blogged here: Review of the Philips DVP642 Region-Free DVD Player) for about $75 from one of these vendors and, distressingly, after only watching about 50 DVDs over a year and a half, it’s now dead and doesn’t spin up the disk any more.
Doing further research, I just bought a Pioneer DV-400 HD codefree DVD Player from International Video and Electronics (though I went to 220-electronics.com), though it hasn’t arrived yet. Total cost? $160 including shipping and they guarantee it’ll play any movie or video disc from any region, in any encoding. It includes a PAL to NTSC converter too, and has both HDMI and Composite interfaces, so I have high hopes for when I hook it up to my Sony Bravia…
Anyway, to get started going down this slope, I encourage you to Google ‘buy region-free dvd player’. And good luck to you!