How to enjoy media in any region

Video tips for travellers and expats

You can easily select the region for your DVD player, and thus play DVDs from any other location. You can also switch back to your default region whenever you please. The manufacturers don't advertise the methods for changing regions on a player, but insiders leak the information, and patient empiricists discover it. And a lot of it is available on the web.

You can search for region hacks at free sites such as VideoHelp.com, DVD Reviewer, DVDActive.com, and AskMerlin.org, and also at part-free, part-pay sites such as DVD Exploder.

The old trick of choosing Region 0, or any region, no longer works now that Region Coding Enhancement (RCE) has been introduced. With recent DVDs and players it's necessary for you to choose the correct region for each disk in order to play it. But the hacks are often relatively easy, and this should figure into your shopping strategy. Research the players that interest you first, and be sure to discover whether a hack is already known, and whether it is easy or cumbersome to implement.

Here in Dublin, hacking your DVD player is a courtesy that any retailer will extend with good cheer. It's all in the open; there's no shame of guilt associated with it. Even in the most mainstream department stores and equipment outlet shops, one of the first things a salesperson will do is check to see if a hack exists for a player you might wish to buy. And they will gladly print the instructions for you.

In less enlightened parts of the world, this might be looked at as somewhat seedy, and it might therefore be necessary to go to a seedy shop in a seedy neighbourhood and speak in low tones. Or, just find the hacks online for the players that you are most interested in buying before you go shopping.

Of course, the MPAA hates all this, and probably regards it as something approaching piracy. But piracy is a crime, as it should be. This is not piracy; it's not even close to piracy; it is nothing more than you exercising control over equipment that you own and modifying it to suit your needs. You are doing nothing worse than annoying the media giants. They don't like it, all right. And so what?

Contrary to MPAA propaganda, changing the region on your player is in no way unethical. It might possibly be illegal in some jurisdictions (e.g., the DMCA is so vaguely worded that region hacking might be a violation), but any law that forbids you to tinker with your own property for legal purposes, such as watching a DVD that you bought on equipment that you own, is ridiculous and needs to be flouted flagrantly.

Such laws are a product of political corruption, of legislators in the pockets of entertainment giants, passing regulations written by media corporation lobbyists in order to curry favour with their deep-pocketed Masters. No such law is to be taken seriously, unless there are criminal aspects, or public safety or public interest concerns (such as there are with emissions controls on automobiles, which, for very good reasons, may not be fiddled with). But here, the interests are 100 per cent private and intolerably selfish, so don't feel the merest twinge of guilt in sticking it to the man. He's always eager to reciprocate, after all.

So, just to recap: While a frequent flier obviously needs to know a lot to make a wise media or equipment purchase, we've just sketched out the most important issues a shopper should educate himself about and investigate before buying. It is complicated, but just remember that video formats and DVD regions are two separate problems requiring separate solutions.

Remember also that the video-format problem has two elements, media on the one hand, for which the right player is needed, and cable and broadcast on the other, for which the right tuner is needed. A media player might or might not be able to serve as a multi-format tuner, so be sure to sort out your needs before buying a new player or a new television. ®


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