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DVD Region Codes Explained

Updated on October 7, 2014

Understanding DVD Region Codes

Do you know the difference between the various DVD Region Codes? Are you aware that a DVD purchased in North America will not normally play in a DVD player in, say, Europe?

Some years ago, my English husband moved to the United States with a large DVD and video collection in tow. To his dismay, he found that he was not able to play any of his DVDs or tapes using a regular American player. Why? Because the DVD format is divided into a number of incompatible geographical regions, while video tapes can only be played on a television of one of three compatible standards: PAL, NTSC and SECAM.

If you're already confused, hopefully this page will go a lot of the way in explaining the differences that exist worldwide in DVD playback, and how you can potentially overcome these differences (and to some extent, the problems encountered with video tape recordings.)

This is DVD Region Encoding explained.


How the DVD Geographical Regions Are Divided

Simply put, if you buy a DVD in the United States and take it home to England (or vice versa), you will not, under normal circumstances, be able to play that DVD in your home DVD player.

This is because the world of DVD is divided into six distinct geographical regions. For example, the UK is in Region 2. This means that all DVD players sold in that country are made to Region 2 specifications. Consequently, Region 2 players can only play Region 2 DVDs. As a result, on the reverse of DVD packaging, you should find a region number between one and six.

The geographical regions are as follows:

REGION 1: USA, Canada

REGION 2: Japan, Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Greenland

REGION 3: S.Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Parts of Southeast Asia

REGION 4: Australia, New Zealand, Latin America (inc. Mexico)

REGION 5: Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Africa

REGION 6: China

So, for example, the upshot of all of this is that DVDs encoded for regions other than Region 2 cannot be played on a Region 2 DVD player. In addition, DVD players made for other regions cannot play Region 2 stamped DVDs.


Other DVD Regions

In addition to the six geographical regions explained above, three others exist, two of which have no real interest to the average consumer.

The third (Region 0) is useful to be aware of for the reasons specified below.

These additional regions are:

REGION 7: Reserved for unspecified special use.

REGION 8: Reserved mainly for cruise ships and airlines.


REGION 0 or REGION ALL: Each disc is unencoded and can be played worldwide. However, PAL discs must be played in a PAL-compatible machine and NTSC discs must be played in an NTSC-compatible machine.


Why Encode DVDs Geographically?

You might be wondering why DVD manufacturers in different parts of the world encode their products in this way.

According to the movie industry, the primary reason for this practice is to protect the integrity of their product (the movie), as films are released to theaters at different times in different countries.

For example, a summer blockbuster in the US may not be released in Australia or Japan until the Christmas season. By this time, the US has probably released its DVD version. Hollywood studios would therefore want to protect their overseas profits from the sale of the US DVD to another country, while the movie is still playing in foreign theaters. It also means that your overseas friends or family would not be able to see the movie before its official release in their territory.

While this may be wonderful for the movie executives, who get maximum profits for their movie, it is not so great for the consumer who will have to wait much longer for the DVD release in their country. This may be a justifiable reason, but for some consumers, there are always circumstances where this explanation does not hold water.

For example, many European movies and television programmes are unlikely to be released to DVD in the US because of the probability of low sales, and therefore their release would be deemed uneconomic.

For collectors of this kind of material, there would be no way of playing a DVD release of, say, a TV show from the UK on an American DVD player.

So what's the answer? Read on...


Overcoming DVD Region Encoding

Apart from the movie executives, one of the other main beneficiaries of DVD Regional encoding is the market for what is called either Region Free or Code Free DVD players. These players are usually purchased outside of the United States, as Region 1 DVDs have a high demand in countries where the discs for certain movies have not been officially released.

However, this can also be true of American consumers (or US immigrant consumers) who want to view foreign material which is unreleased in the American market.

The principal way of obtaining these players is through mail order or from the internet, by way of specialized electronics sites, eBay or Amazon.

When purchasing a code free or multi region DVD player for use in the USA, look for the following:

-- the unit includes a built-in PAL to NTSC converter to ensure trouble free viewing on a standard American TV set.

-- Progressive scan for better picture quality.

{*NOTE: Please take care when purchasing a multi-region or region free DVD player. Ensure that the item you purchase is compatible with your home television system. In the USA, the television standard is NTSC, while in Europe and other parts of the world the standard is either PAL or SECAM. (See below for explanations of these standards).}

What is PAL, NTSC and SECAM?

To understand these three worldwide video standards, here's a great article explaining the differences and how they affect the video consumer.

Useful Region Free Links - Online Retailers For Region Free Merchandise

The links below will direct you to online retailers selling region free or multi region DVD players. By including these links neither the author nor this site (Squidoo) endorse the products sold thereon.

The links are given for purely informational purposes.

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    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I agree, excellent lens, 5***** I am hoping that I can play my USA DVD's back here in the UK. I know I can on my laptop, but even then the DVD drive will only allow me to switch regions a few times, it's really frustrating and there is no good reason for it.

      A while back I inquired about obtaining a VCR in the USA that would play PAL tapes, and after much searching the best price I could find was $600! Forget it!!! In the UK for some years many VCR's would pay and record PAL tapes, as well as play NTCS tapes. I tried one a few years ago and the picture actually looked better in the UK, since the television quality (before HD) is better over here.

    • profile image

      Grombabka 8 years ago

      Good info. Thank You!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens. Very well explained.

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 8 years ago

      Excellent lens. This is confusing for many people, I've seen a number of questions about this in forums.