Blu-ray regions can be an important consideration if you buy plenty of Blu-ray discs.
As with DVD players and discs, Blu-ray technology has a system in place for limiting which discs will play on your player.
So, depending on where you bought them, some discs may not work on your hardware.
While some discs are region-free, many are not and so it is important to be aware of the situation before you buy.
So what do we need to know about region codes?
What Are the Regions For?
Blu-ray region codes were introduced to by the movie studios to allow them to regulate the market and protect their interests.
There are three main reasons for having these codes.
Firstly, because movies are released around the world at different times, the coding is supposed to limit a movie appearing in a particular region before it is officially released.
Secondly, Blu-ray discs have different pricing structures around the globe, and so the studios have a means to try and stop cheaper discs being bought in one part of the world and being sent to another area with more expensive discs.
Lastly, discs from different regions may offer alternative content that is targeted to that particular area of the world such as trailers, extras etc.
Where Are the Blu-ray Regions?
The world is divided into three main areas for the purposes of region coding – A, B and C.
The map below shows these areas:
North America, Central America, South America, Korea, Japan, South East Asia
Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australia, New Zealand
Russia, India, China, Rest of the World
How Does It Work?
The Blu-ray Disc Association requires all forms of Blu-ray players to support regional coding.
This means every player you buy will have this coding system as part of it’s software or firmware, although the actual method used will vary for standalone players and computer-based products.
Conversely, for the discs themselves, the movie studios do not have to encode the discs with region information – it is an optional requirement.
This means that although your Blu-ray player will support the region restrictions, if you buy a region-free Blu-ray disc then you are able to play it anywhere and on any player.
If the disc is coded (and the region code A, B or C will be marked on the back of the disc’s cover), then you will only be able to play it on a machine that is able to play that particular region.
Do All Blu-ray Discs Have Region Codes?
Not at all. Many movie studios such as Paramount and Universal do not encode their discs with region codes at all, while others encode some discs but not others.
However, this does mean that you have to be careful when you are buying Blu-ray discs, as you cannot be sure which are restricted and which are not unless you make a point to check.
It is estimated that approximately 70% of Blu-ray discs are not locked to a particular region.
Can I Buy a Region-Free Blu-ray Player?
Generally, no. As already stated, manufacturers are required to implement the coding in all their players.
Having said that, in some countries such as Australia and Hong Kong, it is illegal to install the region locking software in players and so there are players available in these areas without this restriction.
However, there are also modification techniques that you can find on the internet to make various Blu-ray players region-free – but this won’t be supported by the manufacturer and you do so at your own risk to your hardware. Some models of Blu-ray players are easier to do this for than others.
Just bear in mind, in some countries it may be seen as illegal to try and unlock a player that has been locked, and so take this into account before you try this.
So as you can see, you cannot generalise about this subject too much as the implementation and legality varies from country to country.
If you want to find the best players around today, take a look at my reviews and buying guide for the best Blu-ray players.
Blu-ray region coding can sometimes prove annoying, however, it’s often not the big problem it is sometimes made out to be.
The majority of Blu-ray discs are actually unlocked, and can therefore be played on any machine. The rest should be easily available in the region they are intended for.
Also, even though it may not easy to buy a player that is unlocked, if it is important for you to have this facility then some models can be changed quite easily. Just make sure you understand the risks to your hardware, and check the laws of your country to be sure you aren’t doing anything illegal.
About Home Cinema Guide
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.