Wednesday, January 11, 2006

dvds from the nether regions

unbeknownst to many consumers, whenever you buy a commercial dvd, it comes with something called region encoding. ostensibly an anti-piracy technology, region encoding ensures that a dvd bought in one part of the world will not play in dvd players in other parts of the world. the earth is separated into six regions, and dvd players sold in a region will only play dvds from that region. so if i, living in the US, want to buy a dvd from the UK (for example, the dvds of my current favorite bbc show, look around you), i am basically screwed, unless i own a dvd player that is "region free". some manufacturers do make region-free players, and many other commercial dvd players can be modded to become region-free (mine is, though it is dying and needs to be replaced), but most people don't have those.

the whole thing is a crock and restricts our rights as consumers to buy what we want from whom we want. isn't that what the "free market" is supposed to be about? if i prefer european or japanese dvds, shouldn't i be able to do so? the entertainment industry doesn't think so.

so i got a chuckle out of this guardian story, about how a region encoding error is keeping spielberg's film munich out of the running for the british version of the oscars:

the preview DVD sent to the academy's members is unplayable on machines used in the UK. As a result the majority of Bafta's 5,000 voters will not have seen the film, due to be released in Britain on January 27, and can hardly be expected to recommend it for acclaim.

Sara Keene at Premier PR, the company coordinating Munich's Bafta campaign, blamed the mistake on human error at the laboratory where the DVDs were encrypted. "Someone pushed the wrong button," she said. "It was a case of rotten bad luck." She insisted that the film's distributor, Universal, was not at fault.

The problem, it appears, was partly down to teething troubles with the limited edition DVD players issued last year to Bafta members. Developed by Cinea, a subsidiary of Dolby, the players permit their owners to view encrypted DVD "screeners", but prevent the creation of pirate copies. Munich screeners were encoded for region one, which allows them to be played in the US and Canada, rather than region two, which incorporates most of Europe.

region encoding harms consumers by restricting their freedom to shop. but not just consumers: it harms film lovers everywhere who are unable to watch quality films because they haven't been released in a particular market. that's what DRM does: it doesn't stop piracy, as the true pirates and bootleggers can easily find their way around DRM. all it does is restrict the options of the little guy.

DVD screeners remain a vexed issue for distributors concerned about the potential for piracy. But the evidence suggests that they play a vital role in raising a film's profile among award voters.

"There are over 5,000 Bafta members," Ms Keene explained. "With the best will in the world, they don't all come to the preview screenings. Unless you send them DVDs it is really hard to get a film nominated."

This point was brought home last year when the distributor Entertainment took the decision not to provide Bafta voters with screeners of Million Dollar Baby. Clint Eastwood's boxing drama failed to gain a single nomination at the 2005 awards. One month later it scooped the major honours at the Academy Awards.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Look Around You looks like a great program. I'll have to get that one. We just got season 1 of Extras and need to watch that.

stAllio! said...

i absolutely fell in love with the first season, which i stumbled across because BBC america was airing it immediately after the office.

they drastically changed the format for the second season, which i didn't like as much, but it still made for some good watchin'.

djempirical said...

you know that with most standalone dvd players (esp the cheap $40 ones like mine) you can find a way to crack it within like two minutes....

arratik said...

i found a mod chip for my apex dvd player - it only set me back like $20, and since the main chip was in an ic holder and not soldered onto the circuit board, it was a snap to replace. and a lot of players can be flashed to not only set dvd players to "region 0" but to also disable macrovision.

this is good, because it allows you to run your dvd player through a vcr, eliminating the need for one of those rf switchbox thingies that they sell @ radio shack.

it also has the side effect of being able to dub dvd's to vhs or even dvd-r. :)

i forget which dvd it was (i think it was punch drunk love, but i could be mistaken), but when we tried to play it it displayed a warning message saying that "this dvd will not play on region-free dvd players - please set your dvd player to region 1". weird.

stAllio! said...

like i said, my current (dying) player has been modded to be region- and macrovision-free. the process of doing so was very easy once i found the new firmware online. but the "average" consumer doesn't know about these things. and i don't know if i'd go so far as to say that "most" standalone players can be modded, although of course many can.

djempirical said...

i guess you're right -- "most" is a bit much. i've not had an issue with any of the ones i've had.