Help File: Watching DVDs outside its region

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Saturday, March 19, 2011; 10:46 PM

Help file

I want to watch some British DVDs that were never released here, but my DVD player and my computer say they have the wrong region code. How do I fix that?

A: This question has come up before here and will keep coming up as long as movie studios try to fine-tune their marketing by making discs that work in one or a few of the six geographic regions defined in the DVD specification.

Almost all DVD players sold in the United States (with Canada and Bermuda, it makes up Region 1), as well as the DVD-playback programs bundled on U.S.-market computers, enforce those restrictions.

But some DVD players can be tweaked to ignore region coding, and if you install a free, open-source program called the VLC media player, it's even easier to bypass this restriction.

VLC (videolan.org) is a free download for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux; it might not be the most beautiful program out there, but it gets the job done. As an added bonus, it skips past the usual FBI warning and any trailers you'd otherwise have to sit through.

Blu-ray discs also have region codes, but that standard splits the globe into only three regions. And many Blu-ray titles, even ones from major studios, dispense with region coding entirely. (A competing, unsuccessful high-definition disc format, HD DVD, never supported region codes at all.)

Unfortunately, the picture is much worse with movies offered as downloads or streams online. Legitimate movie sites tend to be confined to the United States. Apple's iTunes Store sells and rents movies in only seven other countries. Netflix reaches only Canada, and Amazon has yet to cross the border at all.

Viewers in the rest of the world can, of course, continue to choose from unauthorized file-sharing sites that don't yield Hollywood any income, and, by the numbers, many of them do.

- Rob Pegoraro


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