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Appropriate Use of Blu-ray Region Coding

The application of common sense makes things... good!
By: Ben Gourlay | Editorials in HT & Movies | Posted: Sep 13, 2008 4:00 am

Appropriate Use of Region Coding For Blu-ray


Frequent visitors to the digital lounge will be familiar with my recent articles on Blu-ray importation including a "Guide to Buying Blu-rays from Overseas, in the effort of simplifying a potentially confusing situation.


Now, as I have already written about, unlike DVD region coding, where pretty much all discs were/are coded, Blu-ray discs are not always so. Some studios, including Warner, Paramount and Universal have never released a Blu-ray with region coding. However, some studios frequently assert their capacity to do so, with none guiltier than Twentieth Century Fox. This is of course contrasted by the deceased HD-DVD format, which was completely devoid of region coding.


Blu-ray Region Code Map


With this in mind, there really should be some rules set aside for the studios that do choose to use region coding, which I feel is anti-competitive by nature. Of course, for an evenhanded approach to this issue, one must understand the history behind the feature, and why studios wanted it.


Region coding was implemented in the DVD specification by the DVD consortium, right from the creation of the format back in the mid 1990's. Because of the tiered strategy of releasing movies theatrically in one territory and then re-purposing that print of the movie in another territory to cut down the costs of creating additional prints, movies are often released in the United States before countries such as Australia. To prevent movie theaters and distributors losing income by, for example, an Australian importing a DVD of an unreleased movie, the world was split into six geographic regions. For the first few years of DVD, player manufacturers mostly adhered to this region plan, until rogue manufacturers started to contravene the agreement and produce region free players, until their sales sky rocketed against big players such as Sony, and DVD creator Toshiba. Eventually, region coding was all but relegated to the scrap bin.


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When the HD-DVD and Blu-ray specifications were being ratified, the HD-DVD consortium, led by Toshiba decided to eschew region coding (although leaving the hardware ability in the specification), while the Blu-ray disc association created three regions, to still hold some degree of control. It is not known whether studios pushed to have this built into the Blu-ray specification, or whether the BDA pre-empted a desire for it.


Thus far, there has been no word on a potential move to embrace region free playback for Blu-ray. However, I believe that in the next few years, especially as cheaper manufacturers streamline manufacturing and make a big push, region restrictions will once again fall by the way side. It will be a happy day. But for now, we just have to live with it, however with a little common sense on the studios behalves, region coding could certainly move from being annoying to liveable.


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