Playing a foreign DVD, region coding & PAL / NTSC

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Region coding and PAL / NTSC picture standards can be confusing. I hope this guide will help you understand their relevence to you.

Region codes are designed to limit the areas of the world in which DVDs can be played:

  • REGION 1 -- USA, Canada
  • REGION 2 -- Japan, Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Greenland
  • REGION 3 -- S.Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Parts of South East Asia
  • REGION 4 -- Australia, New Zealand, Latin America (including Mexico)
  • REGION 5 -- Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Africa
  • REGION 6 -- China
  • REGION 7 -- Reserved for Unspecified Special Use
  • REGION 8 -- Cruise Ships, Airlines, etc.
  • REGION 0 or REGION ALL -- Discs are uncoded and can be played Worldwide, however, PAL discs must be played in a PAL-compatible unit and NTSC discs must be played in an NTSC-compatible unit.

Why region coding?

Why, when we could have had an international format such as CD audio, do DVDs have region coding to limit the regions of the world in which they can be played? Film companies claim it is to fit in with their worldwide staged release schedule for films. It costs a lot of money to produce the films for cinemas, so the films are usually produced and released in America first, then the same copies are distributed around the world. This means an American DVD release can sometimes occur when the film is just being released in the cinemas here, or not long after it has been released. They claimed region coding was necessary to preserve these markets. However, the more cynical among us think that if this was the only reason all 'old' releases would be in region 0 or All Region format - very few are! The real reason is probably more to do with preserving a varying price structure across the world, with those of us in the UK suffering higher retail prices - as usual.

What can be done to get round this coding system?

Purchase a multiregion player. Players sold in High Street stores in the UK are usually set to region 2 but, in most cases, can be made 'region free' or 'multiregion' by typing in codes from your remote control. Use Google to search for 'multiregion hack' together with the make and model number of your player. You're most likely to be able to do this with 'unknown' or cheaper brands. Premium brands such as Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer & Toshiba are often more complicated and you may need to refer to a trader. There are programs for Sonys which use an infra-red remote port on your laptop or PDA to produce the required codes. 

What part does PAL / NTSC format have to play in this issue?

The UK, Australia, etc. use the 625 line 50Hz PAL system. Japan, the USA and Canada use the 525 line 60Hz NTSC system. Because the UK and Japan are both region 2, UK players have to be capable of playing both PAL and NTSC discs. If you can't play a NTSC disc, assuming you've got the region coding sorted,  it's more likely to be your TV that is at fault. Most modern TVs should cope. If you're having problems make sure you're using a SCART lead with a RGB connection or component video.

So, what's better - PAL or NTSC?

It's generally accepted that PAL is the better system. But, if you've connected your DVD player via RGB or Component Video you're not actually using a PAL or NTSC Composite video signal. However, what you are getting is a 525 line 60Hz  picture from an NTSC disc or 625 line 50Hz picture from the PAL disc. Technically speaking the 625 line picture has a higher vertical resolution so should give a better picture. How noticable this is will depend on the size of the screen and where you sit. Conversely, the NTSC disc gives a slightly faster refresh rate, so if you're particularly sensitive to flicker you may find the picture more acceptable. Though, if your TV is of the '100Hz' variety, which effectively doubles the frame rate of a standard PAL signal, this advantage may be insignificant.

Aren't Region 0 or ALL Region DVDs generally pirate copies?

Not always, but they could be. It just takes a bit of common sense. For instance, Disney do not produce Region 0 or ALL Region DVDs. However, a lot of music DVDs are Region 0, as are a few older films.

How do I find out which regions are coded onto a DVD disc?

I use Nero Info Tool. This reveals that most Disney Region 4 DVDs are coded for regions 2 & 4, as are UK Disney Region 2 DVDs!

The above has been gained from experience and reading material from various sources that I can't locate anymore. Please let me know if you see any glaring errors.

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