in December 2000 HiFi Lehti
following letter was published in the newsletter of the
Part II/Osa II - click here)
certainly drives the DVD world -- with Japan at the remote
control. As the main market for the format, Americans may
not be familiar with the mess being created as movie studios
try to preserve the time differential between movie releases
in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
They do this by
making it technically impossible (without unofficial
hacking) to interchange DVD software and hardware across the
arbitrary regions set up by the DVD Forum.
Region 1 is the USA
and Canada. DVDs made for Region 1 can't be played in an
off-the-shelf region-2 DVD unit sold in Europe, and European
discs can't be played in a region1 player. There are eight
regions, with two reserved for planes and ships, and China
gets a region all for itself.
Why should this
interest Americans? First, you can't play UK, Australian and
other 'foreign' English-language productions such as BBC
material. Second, the codes limit U.S. marketing from
foreign producers, unless they make separate region-1 runs.
Third, the coding slows the proliferation and further
technical development of the DVD medium (while maintaining
higher prices for players and discs) because people outside
the US react verybadly to this artificial marketing.
Finally, the rules force smaller companies in the U.S. who
are trying to sell to the world market to release many
different editions. Furthermore, when DVD recording becomes
available, the regional codes will make it impossible to
know whether a DVD you record yourself will play on a
foreign DVD unit (see below).
A UK trade magazine
recently confronted Koji Hase, chairman of the DVD Forum,
with this nonsense. He dismissed the problem, saying that
the VCR and laser disc markets in Europe and the North
American continent have been separated since the 1980s by
the PAL/NTSC schism. Mr. Hase appeared not to notice that
the historical cause for this split was that different color
systems were independently developed across the Atlantic; no
one intentionally produced this problem. That is NOT the
case with DVD - a perfectly global universal system would be
possible but someone in the DVD Forum read Samuelson's
'Economics 101' course book and thought they could maximize
profits by splitting up the markets.(Manufacturers of DVDs
are supposed to promise the Forum as part of their licensing
agreement that they will not produce DVDs that can play in
more than one region.)
One could well
argue that the members of the DVD Forum shot themselves in
the foot with these rules as they are definitely making the
purchase of a DVD less alluring for the entire non-US
Australians and New Zealanders) are anyhow exremely active
in making the viewing of US disks possible. By now probably
20% of UK consumer electronic magazines are devoted to
teaching readers how to hack a region-2 player so it will
act like a region 1 machine. This can be done via the remote
control in some models, or by hacking (chipping) the player.
At the same time the DVD Forum is trying to create 'smart
discs' that will foil all but the most sophisticated hacking
On top of all this,
there are tremendous differences between region-1 and -2
discs in content, and even in quality, with neither 1 nor 2
always being the winner. If you buy a DVD at W.H. Smith at
Heathrow it will not play on your U.S. DVD, and there will
be no mention of this on the cover.
The Chinese seem to
be trying the hardest to force multi-regional units onto the
various markets, prompting terrible controversy between the
their produces and the DVD Forum. Even the big UK retailer,
Tesco (akin to Wal-Mart), is putting itself forward in the
UK as the sole significant provider of multi-regional units
in the UK, defying the forum.
Consumers want to
be able to play any DVD they may buy. No one would argue
that this is an ethical pursuit. When people hack their
units they generally also do away with Macrovision and in
general lose whatever respect they may have had for any
Another set of
issues is raised by the prospect of recordable DVDs.
Manufacturers are presently fighting over at least three
possible formats for DVD home recording, two of them
approved by the DVD Forum and one (Pioneer) not. What will
happen when people around the world try to make recordings
(including perhaps legal snippets of movies for personal
correspondence) and run into a confusion of equipment and
formats? Didn't the global consumer have enough problems
with PAL/NTSC incompatibility? We don't need to see that
A lot of energy and
expense is now being spent on total foolishness. In the end,
people will want to play any disc in any player. With
factory player costs heading downward toward $100, consumers
will just buy two units. Then all the DVD Forum's
constraints will have been a big waste.
Mind you, I have
not even considered the other six regions. The market for
Russian-language material is not huge, but there are people
who would like to see an original production of "The Cherry
Orchard" in Russian, and why should they be prevented? The
complete compatibility of LPs, compact cassettes and CDs has
been a major factor in the huge success of all these
formats. And even with video it wasn't against the law to
make dual VCRs and TVs!
If you have any
additions, suggestions, rebuttals, etc. I would be glad to
hear from you.
Part II/Osa II - click here)
Dr. Robert F.