While a DVD may look similar to a CD it sure carries with it many more problems than
that humble little shiny disc we’ve come to know and love for over 15 years. When you
buy a CD player you can be almost certain that it will play any CD you throw at it
regardless of where in the world you purchased it (technically permitting eg. CD-R). With
DVD however it’s a whole different ball game.
As part of the original licensing agreement set out by movie studios, DVDs have been
separated into six separate regions. A disc from Region 1, for example, won’t play in
a machine in Region 4. Some would say that this would be fine if we were all treated with
the same quality and quantity of product. But this is certainly not the case. With
thousands more titles and sometimes better versions available in Region 1 (United States),
the consumers were quick to overcome the incompatibility issues of DVD region coding by
having their players modified to play discs from all regions. But if you thought after
four years the studios might finally understand the consumer’s point of view in this
matter, you’d be wrong.
Recently, in a bold move by the studios in the United States, the region encoding
system was upgraded. The new system, called R.C.E. (Region Code Enhancement) is more
intelligent than the earlier system. The original system checks if the player carries the
same region code as the encoded disc. Modified players typically carry codes for all
regions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6) essentially meaning that discs from all regions can be
played. That is, until now.
The new system takes this one step further. It not only checks if the player carries
the same region code as the disc, it also checks if the player carries any other region
codes. Therefore, the disc knows if your player has been modified, and if so, won’t
allow you to access any features. Artificial intelligence? Not quite.
Reports so far indicate that many modified players are unaffected by R.C.E. Some of the
players that are affected, like Toshiba, have ways of getting around the coding system.
However, these require a little more button pushing than usual. So far only two discs are
confirmed to carry R.C.E. in R1: The Patriot and Hollow Man. There will almost certainly
be more to come.
However, the main drawback of R.C.E. is not just that it will prohibit playing discs
from R1, but if R4 was to adopt R.C.E. it would essentially mean that even discs you buy
here could not be played on a modified player. So far there appears to be no indication
that Australian distributors will adopt R.C.E., but if they did it would undoubtably cause
chaos among the DVD community around Australia.
For some enthusiasts like myself the introduction of a new region coding system was
never a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Now that a new system has been
introduced it is important to remember that this is only the first upgrade.
There are reasons for region encoding:
Movies are released by different distributors in different countries. For example, The
Matrix was released in Australia by Village Roadshow and in America by Warner Bros. With
regional encoding, studios have control over the distribution of DVDs worldwide.
Movie release schedules are different worldwide, consequently a movie may be released
on DVD in one country before the cinema release in another. For example, Chicken Run, was
available on DVD in the U.S. and the U.K. before it’s cinema release in Australia.
What the studios don’t want you doing is buying the disc overseas instead of going to
the cinema to see it. My home theatre is pretty impressive but a pale comparison to a good
cinema. (Emphasis on the word ‘good’.) More often now for me the experience of
watching a DVD at home is better than the cinema release. My experience watching Looking
For Alibrandi on DVD was much better than the screening at the cinema. In particular, the
audio at the cinema was low level and muffled. The audio at home was pristine and clear.
There are also reasons why consumers are having their players modified and subsequently
purchasing discs overseas. For the purpose of this exercise I’ll refer to three
regions in particular: America – R1, England – R2, Australia – R4.
Many titles not yet available in R4.
Paramount: after more than three years, Paramount are yet to make an appearance in R4.
A question for Paramount: if you don’t make your movies
available here, why can’t I buy them from overseas from R1 or R2?
Better versions – more extras.
example - Terminator 2 R4 released by Columbia TriStar has no extras whereas Terminator 2
R1 (Ultimate Edition), released by Artisan, has three versions of the movie, a feature
commentary, three documentaries, interviews, over 700 storyboards, the entire screenplay,
DTS and Dolby Digital EX sound and heaps more. If you had the choice it wouldn’t be
hard to make. Another recent example, from Fox, is Fight Club. R4 only has one audio
commentary. R1 has four audio commentaries. If that’s not annoying enough, the
special packaging of the initial batch of R4 discs still stated that there were four
commentaries. Isn’t that false advertising? (Or plain inefficient.) [Ed: A subsequent release of the Fight Club DVD in Australia, in November 2000, carried some of the features presented on the US version.]
A question for Disney: Where is our version of the Deluxe Edition
of A Bug’s Life that is available in R1? The local R4 disc misses out on
behind-the-scenes featurettes, an audio commentary, story boards, isolated score audio
track, isolated sound effects track, a multi-angle feature as well as numerous other
And one for Warner Home Video: Compared to R1, the R4 version
of City of Angels misses out on two commentaries, an isolated score with commentary, a
visual effects documentary and music videos among other things. How come?
Better audio-visual presentation.
For example, Das
Boot R4 is missing German 5.1 audio (German being the original language) having only
German 2.0. R1 and R2 however do have German 5.1 audio. Care to explain, Messrs Columbia
TriStar? Another example of better audio-visual presentation is from Universal. The R4
versions of Casino and Out of Sight are not 16:9 enhanced, whereas the R1 versions are. If
you have a 16:9 TV forget about getting the local versions.
More languages and subtitles.
For example, the local
version of Twister is encoded as R2 and R4. When a player is set to R4, 5.1 audio and
subtitles are available in English only. When a player is set to R2 or multi-region
modified, 5.1 audio is available in English, German, Italian, French and Spanish and
subtitles in English, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and
Czech. If the audio and subtitles are physically on the disc why not make it available to
This premium surround sound format is currently
available on many discs in R1 including Jurassic Park, Men In Black, Jaws, Apollo 13 and
Twister. Gladiator is the first and currently only movie available in R4 with DTS sound.
Why is this so?
These are but a few examples of many; hundreds in fact.
Get the feeling we’re being screwed?
If the studios genuinely have any interest in satisfying their customers, they will
have to seriously rethink their policies in regard to region encoding. If there is a
superior version of a DVD available overseas, then that’s where my money will be
heading. If there is DVD that is unavailable here in Australia then I will buy it from
overseas. It’s that simple. It’s about time studios stopped segregating the
planet and gave the consumers what they really want: the choice.
OUR READERS WARN:
The reason a lot of movies aren't released in this country with extra bits is because
of the rental market. A film such as Fight Club will be released to rental stores at a
higher price ($100 or more) initially with just the film. Months later it will be released
on the sell through market at a lower price with bonus footage, etc. This way the
companies get two bites at the cherry.
In regards to the DVD of Lolita (remake): You readers may like to know that the Lolita
disc in the UK has had a deleted scene removed by the censors there. Whether the disc
coming out here soon is actually a "Collector's Edition" or not, be wary. Discs
released here are [often] simply UK PAL versions. I think it's disgraceful that we have
their censorship thrust on us here in Australia & NZ.
Brendan Day, QLD
Ed: Brendan is correct; Fox Home Video confirms that the Australian release
(April 20, 2001) is indeed the UK version.
Published March 1, 2001