The term “region free” refers either to a DVD that can be played anywhere in the world, on any player, or to a DVD player that is capable of handling discs from anywhere. This term is also used to describe game consoles and games in some areas of the world. Consumers may opt to purchase region free products so that they have more access to products they are interested in, and some manufacturers choose to produce such goods to appeal to more consumers.
Various parts of the world are broken up into “regions” divided by numerical codes. The idea of separating the world into regions is that manufacturers can produce products that will only work in a particular part of the world. This is theoretically done to protect copyrights and embargoes, such as when a movie that has no distribution rights in the United States is released on discs that play in the European region only. The regions also allow manufacturers to charge differing prices to consumers, however, taking advantage of the fact that people in one region may be willing to pay more than consumers in another.
Region one encompasses North America, while two reaches over most of Europe, the Middle East, and Japan. Region three is located in Southeast Asia, with region four covering South America and Oceania. Most of Africa and Asia are covered under region five, and region six is reserved for China. Region seven is currently unused, except in special circumstances, and region eight is designated for international settings, such as cruise ships and planes.
When a disc is marked with a particular region code, it means that the disc will only play in DVD players that can handle that region, or all region player. Region six DVDs, for example, will only play in region six or all region players. A manufacturer can also choose to mark a disc as region zero, all region, or region free, meaning that it will play in all players. Likewise, a DVD player can also specify that it will only play discs from one region, or that it will only allow a limited number of region changes, which means that people can't endlessly alternate play of, for example, region three and region five DVDs.
Initially, many DVD players came with region encoding, although crafty consumers figured out how to bypass it. More manufacturers today are building products that will play discs from any region, however, in response to consumer demand. Products that are not totally region free may have simple bypass techniques available, and sometimes the manufacturer even publishes this information for the convenience of consumers.
When buying a DVD player or DVDs, region encoding is something to think about. A DVD player that is not tied to one region will be less frustrating for people with mixed DVD collections, while someone who lives in the heart of a particular region and only watches mainstream films may not be too hindered by a player with region restrictions.