This page discusses region coding, region-based lockouts, and other producer-supplied controls that restrict the use of their media in certain geographical areas.
For DVDs, region coding refers to the assignment of a number representing a geographic region to a DVD.note the same coding is also used by PlayStation Portable UMDs and software This prevents a DVD purchased in one part of the world from being played in a DVD player purchased in another part of the world. The specific region codes are:
0 - No region; can be played on any DVD player anywhere in the world. Also denotes a DVD player that can play DVDs from any region.
1 - USA, Canada, Bermuda
2 - The European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Japan.
3 - Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea
4 - Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Latin America (except French Guiana)
5 - Africa (except Egypt, South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland), Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan
6 - China
7 - Reserved for future use
8 - Mainly for distant transportation venues in international skies and waters such as airplanes and cruise ships, though many of these just use the format and player type of the nation they serve the most.
For Blu-ray discs, the regional codes are much less tortuous and are as follows:
A - The Americas and most of Asia
B - Europe, Australia, Africa and New Zealand
C - The former USSR, China and other parts of Asia not covered by Region A
However for most consoles, natural lockouts do exist due to differing television display formats (currently based on declining analog formats, which will most likely persist into the future despite the fact that they're not relevant with digital simply because of tradition).:
NTSC-U/C for The Americas (and since the introduction of the Blu-Ray disc region scheme, some parts of Asia)
NTSC/J for Japan and most of Asia (whole of Asia before the introduction of the Blu-Ray regioning scheme)
PAL for Europe and Oceania
NTSC/C for China (introduced by Sony)
NTSC/K for Korea (introduced by Nintendo)
Studios do this to control release and distribution of a movie or game globally. A movie available on DVD in the United States may just be hitting theaters in Europe. This is weakly justified because it takes time to produce translations for foreign languages (except that the United Kingdom and Ireland are classed as part of Europe but generally need no translation), clear moral censorship standards, abide by copyright terms and pay local distributors around the world, and because region coding restricts nationals to the approved domestic version of a film.
Predictably, Region Coding was one of the first things cracked on DVDs, and was pretty much the first thing hackers set out to circumvent when Blu-Ray discs were released. It is also the number one legitimate reason people mod consoles, slightly ahead of "running homebrew software". Region-free DVD players are easily obtained online, while most other DVD players have service codes to disable region code checking. Like any DRM, though, it's still technically illegal to circumvent (in the United States, at least). It's completely legal in many other countries, but this may invalidate your warranty on some devices. (In Sweden, you just ask for a region-free set at the local vendor and you'll get it; but you will have to bring up the matter yourself; the salesclerk won't. In Malaysia, you can be sure that the DVD player is region free if it's a Bland-Name Product from a big box storenote called a "hypermarket" locally although brand-name region-free players from Hong Kong can be purchased from most electronics dealers as well- like Sweden above, you'll need to specifically ask for the player to be region-free when buying brand-name players).
(Note that region coding itself is illegal in some areas. The responsible bodies in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand have investigated whether it violated free trade agreements, found that it did, and therefore all DVD players sold in those areas are required to be region-free or at least have the ability to disable the lock. This doesn't appear to extend to video game consoles, though, at least in Australia's case.)
It's worth noting that video game consoles have had region coding since 1984. It was introduced there by Nintendo, theoretically to reduce pirated and unlicensed games on the system. However, it also serves as a huge barrier to Import Gaming, for much the same reasons as with home movies. Devices to maneuver around the region coding are also illegal, but popular to the point that such a device for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the first with such coding, still sells for a respectable amount.
The US version of the NES has a lockout chip called the 10NES. While its main reason of existence is to ensure that only games certified by Nintendo will run, it has the side-effect of region-locking the console, since various European consoles have different (and incompatible) versions of the chip. It also ended up using extra pins that're used by co-processors that're found on many Japanese games. Also, the Japanese NES has a slightly different slot, offering less pins than the NES (so in actual fact, the NES could actually implement co-processors given the extra pins, but ended up not doing so anyway).
It is possible to defeat this chip by literally removing the cover and cutting pin #4 with nail scissors. Then all you need is a Famicom to NES adaptor and your machine will play anything.
Heck, Some early NES games are actually Famicom games with an adapter complete with 10NES chip key inside. Busting one open to recover the adapter is considered by some collectors to be a worthy sacrifice of said cartridge, since using said adapter negates the need to temper with the 10NES chip.
The SNES actually had two plastic tabs that prevented Super Famicom cartridges from being inserted. A pair of pliers and devil-may-care attitude about warranty can fix that...note While the SNES does have a copy protection chip called the CIC, the same chip is used worldwide and it's only job is to ensure the game is licensed by Nintendo, copy protection is handled mostly by said tabs and checking the clock speed of the 65816 CPU.
Sadly, this does not apply to people trying to play a PAL SNES game on an NTSC SNES and vice-versa, due to the fact that many games actually try to detect the speed of the SNES and display a wrong region message if the speed is incorrect (PAL SNES sets runs at a slower clock rate due to being tied down to a 50Hz output, while NTSC sets run faster due to being tied down to a 60Hz output). In cases like these, a lockout bypass cartridge is usually used. Said cartridges basically has two slots on the top. In one slot, you'd plug in the wrong region game that you want to play (depending on your console), and in another slot, you'd plug in a game that is of the correct region. How the device works is a little fuzzy, but it works with most common games. However, this still won't work with cartridges that has co-processors inside.
The Nintendo64 used tabs to region-lock as well. It's slightly more difficult to bust it's tabs, but a worthy investment.
The Sega Genesis has an odd region-coding system. Sega, trying to cut costs, designed the console's motherboard so that changing the region is as simple as swapping a few jumpers on the motherboard around. The first jumper determined the clock speed of the console and the second jumper determines the console language. There were only three valid combinations - English 50Hz for PAL, English 60Hz for NTSC/UC, and Japanese 60Hz for NTSC/J. This is combined with the shape of the physical cartridge (NTSC/UC and PAL cartridges were designed the same way, but NTSC/J cartridges were slightly different in terms of shape). All it took to make the console region free was to mod two switches into the console to select language and speed (although if you had a Japanese console, you must also mod the top loading section of the case so American and European cartridges will fit). It didn't really mattered much during the early days of the console tho, since most games released then were region free (and some even used the settings for Country Switch purposes). Only when the region locked games came out later that people took to modding.
Interestingly, this does not apply to early portable consoles. They lack region protection, on the theory that someone with one of these should be able to pick up a game for his system no matter where in the world he goes (the lack of a TV may have played a part, see below). For this reason, portables are extremely common amongst import gamers from any country. However, with today's portable consoles, companies combat these solutions with mandatory updates required to play games released from there on out.
The DSi has region locking, but only for specific DSi features, such as differing online features for each region. Future games will still be region-free, with the exception of downloadable ones.
The Nintendo 3DS has region locking for both cartridge and downloadable games, to the annoyance of import gamers. Nintendo allegedly incorporates a whitelist database on each device, which contains a list of checksum of valid games. Game not in the list? Then it wouldn't run. Allegedly this is why the 3DS regularly receives updates even if there's no bug fix or feature addition, and is why cartridges for the original DS needed to be validated online, leading to the requirement of the 3DS having an internet connection and the slow loading time of original DS games as well, but apparently they have moved DS games to using the whitelist too...
The PSP has region coding as well, although it's optional for games. UMD movies are always region locked, and EA and Sony themselves have abused the feature when it comes to games and applications: EA used it to lock copies of BattleZone sold in Asia so that it would only play on Asian PSPs (probably because the game is sold at a lower price in the region), while Sony abused it so that Asian PSPs will not detect or launch the comic book viewer app, and so that only Japanese and British PSPs can use the Remote TV Viewer application for remotely watching content received and recorded by PS3 USB tuner, which was only sold in the UK and Japan.
Strangely for home consoles, all but twonote See Persona 4 Arena and JoySound Dive entry below PS3 games are region-free, and Xbox 360 region locking has always been at game publishers' discretion.
It should be noted that the PS3 is a strange case. It was originally to feature optional region coding itself, using two different possible methods- the first was by Blu-Ray regional codes and the second more precise method is to query the model number of the PS3- CECHx-yy for the original models where yy is the region code, and CECH-2xyyz for the slim models, where yy is the region code. In fact, the PS3 still have the region coding mechanism intact (which it still uses on Blu Ray and DVD movies, as well as PS2 and PS1 games, and also by some PS3 games, but only for Country Switch purposes). Pressure from certain government parties, organizations and savvy users made them promise to not use the feature on PS3 games and thus all discs are pressed as region free, as are PS1 and downloadable games that are bought off the PSN store. Several companies have threatened region-locking PS3 games in the past: Midway with John Woo's Stranglehold, Sega with Bayonetta, and EA with Army of Two. All of them backed down after public outcries and threats of boycott, with EA only limiting the Army of Two to multiplayer server segregation. However, very recently, North American consoles have started displaying a Netflix option, which is absent from other consoles. Could be justified that Netflix itself is region-locked, but still...
Persona 4 Arena has become the first game to have actual region lockout on the PS3. The fanbase is already calling Atlus out on this, citing things such as the fact that the game might get delayed for a ridiculously long time in Europe by the localizer. Which indeed happened to the surprise of no one. The game was set for release in Europe on August 31st, 2012, but it's release date was removed and the localizer refused to issue a new release date. While the game was finally released on May 10th, 2013, fans have long developed Hype Backlash that many had cancelled their pre-order of the game while others are sworn that they won't buy the game if it's releasednote Source. The boneheaded part of the issue? The PS3's region lock type is exclusive, they could make the US version of the game run on all consoles except Japanese ones. note Unless, Atlus is just that greedy and is seeing the Euro-US currency rate as the same reason to region lock the US version of the game. Since the reason they don't want the Japanese importing games is because games released for the US is cheaper, which is actually the same situation in the Europe. It's just cheaper for Europeans to import games in from the US since the typical way retailers determine the pricing of a game to be sold in Europe is taking the US price and changing US$ to Euro, netting themselves a handsome profit in the process
A PSN exclusive game, JoySound Dive, which is exclusive to the Japanese PSNnote http://www.psnstores.com/2011/11/the-more-you-know-psn-content-can-be-region-locked/, has been recently found to be region-locked as well, making it the second game for the PS3 to be region-locked. Download it onto a non-Japanese PS3? It won't run, period. Allegedly, Japanese PS3s operating outside of Japan won't run the game either, even on the Japanese PSN profile, indicating a two-way lockout (IP georestriction + Console region code). On the other hand, this is a karaoke game, so we can probably blame JASRAC (the Japanese equivalent of the RIAA) for this one.
Even though Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Full Boost is Region Free, the Online portion ISN'T. Namco Bandai added an Online Pass requirement only available to JP or Asia PSN users to prevent experienced users with multiple accounts from curb-stomping new players, so if you're willing to play the online part of the game, you'll need a JP or Asia PSN account for it, esp. if you're going to Plat the game in these accounts. If you just have a US/EU account, tough luck- say goodbye to fully platting the game (since the game has online trophies).
EA's Army Of Two has an issue similar to Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Full Boost above. While the game itself is region-free, the multiplayer part is region-segregated into three geological regions (PAL, NTSC/UC and NTSC/J) and the region of the game disc determines which region's server you'll connect to.
Of the three The Eighth Generation of Console Video Games consoles, it appears that the Wii U will be the only region-locked console in the market. Microsoft originally intended to region-lock the Xbox One to only 21 countries, but backed out when critics and fans vocally protested the region coding plan and DRM. Sony in the meantime has pledged that Persona 4 Arena and JoySound Dive were unique cases and they intend to retain the region-free policy with the PlayStation 4.
In the analog age, differing TV (and electrical) standards were used as a sort of de facto regional lock-in technology. Since NTSC (typically 60Hz) and PAL/SECAM (typically 50Hz) note PAL and SECAM are also different systems. And well, as noted below, it gets more complicated hardware are completely incapable of dealing with content from the other system without absurdly expensive translation hardware, this kept import trade to a minimum. Many newer PAL/SECAM TVs now offer a special 60Hz mode, and nearly every PC TV tuner/AV accessory has always supported all three standards. If all you've got are American TVs and set-top receivers, you're still hosed, though, unless you have a fairly expensive NTSC/PAL television.
It gets even more complicated. PAL, SECAM and NTSC are only color encoding standards (though they typically have a refresh rate attached, the refresh rate is actually optional. That's why there are messed up systems like 60Hz PAL and 50Hz NTSC). Ever wonder what are those letter suffixes that follows a system name when you look at the technical specifications page of a world multi TV manual? That's the transmission standard, which goes all the way from System A to System S. This is really where the TV resolution, refresh rate, and audio-visual frequency offset is defined. It's possible to mix and match transmission standard and color encoding standards, though PAL typically use B, D, E, G, H, I, K, M, N and NCnote I, M, N and NC are 60Hz broadcast systems, NTSC typically use M (though Japan's system could be arguably called NTSC-M'(M-prime) due to the slight luminance rating difference), and SECAM typically use B, D, G, H, K, K'(K-Prime) and L. And that's not counting abandoned systems like System A (which went through a brief trial period with all three color encoding standards by the BBC in the late 40s), and System S. Wait, there's more! This has nothing to do the the PAL, NTSC-J, NTSC/UC, NTSC-K and NTSC-C standards used for region locking game consoles. The latter bunch of imaginary NTSC variants were drummed up by marketroids to state what region code a game is for! You don't have to get confused tho- these don't really come into play as far as line input is concerned- only resolution and refresh rate are really important here with line input, and these systems should fall out of use as countries switch over to digital. On the other hand...
This continues into the digital age as well. DVB, ATSC, ISDB and DMB: These are the four digital systems deployed worldwide. DVB is used in Europe and most of Asia (except the handful of countries as said next), ISDB is used in South America, Japan and The Philippines, ATSC is used in North America and South Korea (the only Asian country using said system), and DMB is used in China. To further complicate matters, there are two versions of DVB, and tuners built for version 2 are backwards compatible with version 1, but not the other way around. Early adopter of DVB-type Digital TV and the government announces that it is switching to version 2 of the system, like what's happening in Malaysia and Singapore? Sucks to be you. Also, some countries may decide to adopt two or more systems, i.e., South Korea adopted both DMB and ATSC systems and broadcasts in both formatsnote South Korea broadcasts in ATSC for regular TVs, but also in DMB for in-vehicle and handheld portable TVs. And if a country decided to change system due to changes in political ties/technological progression, woe be upon the citizens of the country in question. To top it all off, HD images can be 24, 25 or 30 frames per second. Many early HDTVs, as well as cheaper monitors, will refuse to recognize 25 fps sources. Heck, even many new TV sets sold in the United States refuses to recognize 25 fps input.
Some late-era VHS machines in the UK at least were able to play back NTSC tapes (at least US-format ones), though for some reason refuse to show SECAM recordings in anything but black-and-whitenote Remember that PAL and SECAM are only color standards. The only important thing about the tape where VCRs are concerned is the tape speed. The reason PAL and SECAM tapes are cross-compatible save for color is that the tapes run at the same speed, but the color signal is stored as-is on the video portion of the tape and not converted to a universal standard before storage. NTSC VCRs actually spin their tape slightly faster to compensate for the higher frame rate of System-M. This is also true for PAL-M/N VCRs sold in South America- those run at a faster speed and are actually incompatible with other PAL and SECAM recorders.
Completely subverted in many parts of Asia in the same era due to world-multi VCRs and TVs becoming the norm due to system confusion caused by Nintendo, Sega, Sony et. al insisting on launching NTSC/J consoles in countries that were using PAL due to being former British/Dutch colonies. (The exception is obviously the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Myanmar, which chose NTSC due to historically being US offshore bases or having trade agreements with the US.) Even today, these countries receive PAL TV broadcasts (terrestrial TV signals- or in countries that have already switched to digital, DVB-T2 set-top digital receivers, as well as cable/satellite/IPTV set top boxes, output their analog signal in PAL) but consoles, DVD and Blu-Ray players are NTSC.
The Internet is becoming the new battle ground for all this nonsense; companies who are uploading shows to watch online will more likely than not make it a nightmare to watch their stuff if you're not in their region. Some of this makes sense (The BBC will be legally murdered if they release their stuff outside the United Kingdom), some are just annoying (yeah, no one has the rights to Fist of the North Star in the United Kingdom, Toei) and others fly in the face of all common sense.
Up until today, the only other countries that are able to access Hulu are Japan, and unofficially, some of New Zealandnote some ISPs in the country have actually created complicated mechanisms to allow it's subscribers to appear to be visiting the site from within the US. It was once widely available in Germany due to impracticalities of blocking the country without alienating the US army bases at the time, but apparently they've worked out how to block it from German civilians while still making it available to US bases now.
Youtube allows videos to be region locked by uploaders if they so wished.
The BBC iPlayer and CatchUpTV is this to the rest of the world. In the case of the BBC it is funded by a license that every UK household has to pay in order to legally watch broadcast television. So the reason for restriciting it to the UK is justified. i.e you haven't paid to see it.
There is a bit of a loophole though. You're only required to have a TV license to watch broadcast television, or live streams from the BBC such as sporting events. Anyone in the UK can still legally access everything on iPlayer without paying for a TV license as long as they don't own a TV and avoid the live streams.
And so is the Australian equivalent, The ABC's iView. This one's a bit of a wallbanger because Australians were never required to pay for a license to watch TV, and it's the policy of the ABC to freely offer its content. The ABC pinned the blame on licensing issues on the blockage screen- fair enough, we assume that ABC has to agree to some archaic licensing contract that among other things prevents them from offering otherwise-premium programming outside Australia, given that it does have a fair amount of premium imports that it offers for free to Australian residents. The violation of common sense part? Even shows The ABC produced themselves are also blocked to non-Australians on the site.
Videos on The Hub are region-locked to only the US as well, to the ire of fans of many cartoons based around Hasbro's franchises but are unlucky enough to live in places where the shows are not available through legal means for whatever reason.
Many MMOs have a variation of this that prevent you from playing the game if it detects that you are playing on an internet connection outside of its region.
Depends on the company and the MMO. An example of this is Nexon and MapleStory, in which the version North America plays is the "Global" version, which can be played by any country or region that doesn't have a company that localized it. However, when it said area does get their own version, they eventually receive an IP filter from the Global edition so that any new players play their region's version instead. But even then there is some leniency, as Nexon will allow players who registered and played Global before a certain date to continue playing it in addition to their localilzed game.
The boneheaded part of the filter tho: those who can play global can also choose to sign up with some regional versions of the game, but those who can not sign up for global can only play the game in their own region. For example, someone in Australia (should be playing on the Global server proper) can sign up for both Global and the South-East Asian (SEA) version of the game (assuming he/she has the capability to install both clients side-by-side). On the other hand, someone in Malaysia is region-locked to playing only the SEA version of the game. This is because the SEA version does not request for identification aside from an address which can be easily faked.
Korean websites and MMO hosts are required by law to scrutinize every user who registers to them. This is generally done by requiring the user to input his real name and Korean resident registration number, and submit a copy of his ID card or other legal document. As a "side effect", people not from Korea are unable to register to their sites.
Certain online stores only accept certain credit cards from within their own country, effectively restricting business to domestic sales only.
Amazon region locks the Unbox service, Android App Store and MP3 store to the country the store is in. You can't buy anything unless your IP address belongs to an ISP in the country the store is in.
While the apps themselves aren't region coded (but is DRM locked), Apple's App Store is somewhat irrationally segregated as well. Heard of a cool app? Chances are you can't download it because it's not available in the App Store of the country you're in. Irrational because sometimes an app from a developer may not be available on sale while other apps from the same developer are, and sometimes, an app featuring characters from a TV show will not be available even if said TV show is in fact airing in the country. Yes, there is a form to request Apple to make said apps available, but if the developers refuses for any reason, it still won't be. Either way, you're shafted.
Leap Frog is the latest to join this madness. Especially egregious because not only do they have a monopoly over the app market, but IP blocking is as flawed as it comes (being prone to false positives and can be bypassed by the more desperate). And oh, they let you see apps available on other markets, just blocking you from buying the said app. Seeing highly desirable apps and videos but not being able to buy them is a painful tease...
VTech has also started region locking their store, again using IP blocking. Stupidity aside, The one thing they're doing differently however is that they're outright blocking region-locked apps from displaying in the search and catalogs (like what Apple is doing with the iOS store) instead of letting them show but not letting the potential customer buy. It's still painful when they announce new videos, music and apps on Facebook tho.
A sad day for PC gamers out there: According to Lowyat.Net- a prominent Malaysian forum, Valve Software has implemented region coding in Steam in some regions, with South-East Asian, Russian and South American countries being those on the receiving end of the blow at the moment. It is unknown if Valve plans to fully region-lock Steam however. Some of the forumers suspect Konami is to blame for this.
As PAL and NTSC have different video standards, this leads to, in some cases, a (roughly) 4% speed-up or slowdown when a work is ported across from Europe to America if no-one particularly cares to do it right. A particularly tragic case of this concerns the Doctor WhoTV movie: Normally, Doctor Who is mastered in the European PAL standard used in its native UK, and the versions released in the American market are converted to NTSC in such a way to preserve the timing. However, the movie was a UK-US co-production, so it was mastered in NTSC, and converted for the PAL market with a 4% speedup. Viewers often find it jarring to listen to Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas featuring the Eighth Doctor after watching the movie, as his real voice is noticeably deeper than the sped-up version in the movie.
Most NTSC-to-PAL conversions used this process, as it would make sense to preserve the image quality than to retain the speed. The process for converting NTSC to PAL while retaining speed accuracy would cause frames to interpolate, since 30 frames would have to step down to 25, every frame in PAL would be an intermediate of two frames in NTSC (doing simple math, this means only every 300th frame would be a non-interpolated frame). Convert that back to NTSC and it would be doubly messy as now some of the frames would be duplicates of intermediate frames in PAL. There's a reason this conversion method is only used for worldwide live telecasts or in conversion boxes to convert NTSC game console output for use with older non-world-multi-capable PAL TVs and vice-versa.
Weirdly, Cellphones were also somewhat region-locked by frequency range. Most of these were eventually subverted by world-multi-band phones:
Back in the 2G era, it was usually the US' 850MHz/1.9GHz vs the rest of the world's 900MHz/1.8GHz. This was eventually subverted with the creation of quad-band 2G phones.
In the 3G era, it moved on to the US' 850MHz/1.7GHz/1.9GHz vs the rest of the world's 900MHz/2.1GHz. This was eventually subverted with the creation of penta-band 3G phones.
Now, in the 4G era, bands are divided between the US' 700MHz/1.7GHz/1.9GHz, the majority of the rest of the world's 800MHz/1.8GHz/2.6GHz, and the 2.1GHz/2.3GHz/3.5GHz used in some other countries. So far, there is no one world-capable phone that can support all the bands.
To make things worse, some phones may be sim-locked, ensuring that they may only function with the SIM cards provided by the company who sold you the service.
Samsung region-locks their phone so those phones may only be used in the country they're sold in, even if the phone isn't sim-locked. For example, a Galaxy S5 sold in Malaysia may only use Malaysian telco issued SIM cards, taking one into Singapore and trying a Singaporean SIM card will render the phone useless.
Konami's eAMUSEMENT Participation program, used for current Konami arcade games such as the BEMANI franchise and Quiz Magical Academy. Games under this program must be connected to the eAMUSEMENT network upon boot or they will refuse to start. eAMUSEMENT services are limited to Japan, select East and Southeast Asian countries, and arcades in the United States operated by Japanese amusement center chain Round1; anyone living outside of these countries will not be able to play current Konami arcade games even if they have access to the necessary hardware.