Warner attempts to out-hack DVD hackers

Modified region coding to 'discourage' region-free DVD player sales

Time Warner's home video division has changed DVD's region coding scheme to make it even harder to play movies sold in one territory in another.

Other DVD distributors are expected to follow suit. Sony subsidiary Columbia Tristar has already agreed to do so.

According to a leaked internal Warner Home Video document posted on Web site DVD Debate, the company began shipping discs with an "enhanced" region code at the start of this month.

"This program is a response to the unauthorised practice of altering DVD video hardware players so that they bypass the region code requirements for DVD," the document states. "This is happening on a more frequent basis in many territories, and retailers are openly marketing these non-complying players with names such as 'region-free' and 'multi-zone'."

That's a reference to players from South-East Asia which are nominally coded for a specific region but can easily be recoded to play DVDs from any territory.

DVDs are currently coded to identify them for use only in specific world markets, such the US (Region One) and Europe/Japan (Region Two). There's little merit in the scheme - it simply allows movie companies to ship discs to different markets at different times. Many movies currently on sale in DVD form in the US, for instance, have yet to appear in the cinema in Europe.

It's a pretty inequitable system, and DVD punters understandably don't like it, especially since there are more titles available in the US, they are released more quickly and they usually come with a greater number of extra features. Some users even get their DVD players converted to bypass the circuitry that prevents them from playing discs from other regions.

Warner's enhancement "allows the disc to detect if a hardware player is region specific (as required by the CSS licensing agreement), or if it has been manufactured or altered in the market to be 'region free'. If the player is 'region free' the [Region Code Enhancement] will not allow the disc to play the program material. It will instead display a message on the television advising the consumer that the machine is not authorised to play this disc", says the leaked memo.

"Warner will start applying the RCE to discs scheduled for release in the US market beginning in late October. At this time, the RCE will only be applied to Region 1 versions of titles. At least one other studio (Columbia TriStar) will also be releasing discs with the RCE during the fourth quarter."

The document continues: "It is especially important to focus on retailers selling product online, and any account, which may be exporting products outside region one.

"With the online retailers, we must discuss the need to properly notify consumers outside the region one territories that the disc may not play in their player before the disc is purchased. The customer dissatisfaction and returns risk is significant if this is not done."

In other words, Warner knows all too well such a move will piss users off, which is probably why "there is no plan to send out a press release on this program". ®

Related Link

That Warner Home Video memo in full [Update: October 2005 - link now broken]

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