DVDs are locked, so you can't play them in different parts of the world. But what about Blu-ray? Find out all you need to know about Blu-ray region codes.
Understanding Blu-ray region codes can be an essential 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, so it is important to be aware of the situation before buying.
So what do we need to know about region codes for Blu-ray players and discs?
Table of Contents
- What are Blu-ray Region Codes?
- What Are Region Codes For?
- Where Are the Blu-ray Regions?
- Are Blu-Ray Region Codes the Same as DVD?
- How Does Region Coding Work?
- Do All Blu-ray Discs Have Region Codes?
- Where Can I Find the Region For a Disc?
- Do 4K UHD Blu-ray Discs Have Region-Coding?
- Can I Buy a Region-Free Blu-ray Player?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What are Blu-ray Region Codes?
All Blu-ray players support a global digital rights management system which means they are locked to the region where they are sold.
This means they can only play discs that match their region code.
However, not all Blu-ray discs have region coding installed, so you can play many discs on any Blu-ray player.
If you want to find the best players around today, check out the buying guide for the best Blu-ray players.
What Are Region Codes For?
Blu-ray region codes were introduced by the movie studios to regulate the market and protect their interests.
There are three main reasons for having these codes.
Firstly, because movies are released worldwide at different times, the coding is supposed to limit a film appearing in a particular region before it is officially released.
Secondly, Blu-ray discs have different pricing structures around the globe, so the studios can try and stop cheaper discs from being purchased in one part of the world and sent to another area that has expensive discs.
Lastly, discs from different regions may offer alternative content 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
Region 0 / ABC / FREE
There isn’t a standard term for discs that aren’t locked to a region. Sometimes the disc will have a label with all three areas – ABC, and other discs may display the term ‘free.’
Are Blu-Ray Region Codes the Same as DVD?
No, the region-locking system was simplified for Blu-ray discs. DVD region codes have several more locations than Blu-ray.
There are ten codes: six defined zones worldwide, two additional locations, and two more for unlocked discs.
The map below shows the regions for DVD discs:
United States (incl. Puerto Rico), Canada and Bermuda
Europe (without Belarus, Ukraine and Russia), Greenland, Overseas France, Turkey, Middle East, Egypt, Tunisia, Eswatini, Lesotho, South Africa and Japan
Southeast Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau
Latin America (except French Guiana and Puerto Rico), Caribbean (except French West Indies) and Oceania (except French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and Hawaii)
Africa (except Egypt, Tunisia, Lesotho, Eswatini, South Africa, Mayotte and Réunion), Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Central Asia, South Asia, Mongolia and North Korea
MPAA-related DVDs and “media copies” of pre-releases in Asia
International venues such as aircraft, cruise ships, and spacecraft
All of the region codes are set from 1 to 8 allowing for play in any region.
How Does Region Coding 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 its software or firmware, although the actual method used will vary for standalone players and computer-based products.
Conversely, the movie studios do not have to encode the discs with region information; it is optional.
This means that although your Blu-ray player will support the region restrictions if you buy a region-free Blu-ray disc, you can play it anywhere and on any player.
But, if the disc is locked, you will only be able to play it on a machine that can play that particular region.
You can tell if a disc is region-coded because the region code A, B or C will be marked on the back of the disc’s cover.
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 – 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.
Where Can I Find the Region For a Disc?
The region for a disc will be printed on the back of the box. It is often relatively small, so you may have to look carefully.
Alternatively, if you look at the disc itself, it will also be printed on there. Here is the ABC region-free code printed on a disc and cover:
And here is another disc with a region code B:
As you can see, they are there if you look hard enough!
Do 4K UHD Blu-ray Discs Have Region-Coding?
No. The Blu-ray region codes that I am discussing here are for standard 1080p Blu-ray discs only.
Fortunately, the advent of 4K UHD Blu-ray technology also saw the end of region codes for the discs.
Unfortunately, 4K UHD Blu-ray players still need to adhere to region codes because they can also play DVDs and standard Blu-ray discs.
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. So there are players available in these areas without this restriction.
There are also modification techniques that you can find on the internet to make various Blu-ray players region-free. Check out this list if you are looking for a hack for your player.
However, the manufacturer won’t support this, so you do so at your own risk to your hardware.
You will find that some models of Blu-ray players are easier to do this for than others.
Also, it may be illegal to try and unlock a player that has been locked in some countries. So take this into account before you try this.
So as you can see, you cannot generalize about this subject too much as the implementation and legality vary from country to country.
The features available on a player also depend on when it was made. Take a look at the guide to Blu-ray profiles for more information on this.
Blu-ray region codes 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 readily available in the region they are intended for.
Also, even though it may not be easy to buy an unlocked player, some models can be changed relatively easily if you need to have this facility.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have more questions, here is a brief FAQ about region codes and Blu-ray.
Do Blu-rays Have Region Codes?
Although region coding is an option for Blu-ray discs, many do not have region codes embedded. It is estimated that 70% of Blu-ray discs are not region-locked. The best way to check is to look at the box for the disc – or on the disc itself.
Do 4K UHD Blu-ray Discs Have Region Codes?
No, all 4K UHD Blu-ray discs are released without region coding.
Do PCs Support Region Codes for Blu-ray?
Many hardware Blu-ray players will have region codes installed in their firmware, although they will often allow a limited number of changes to the region before they are locked. However, most software applications that play DVDs and Blu-rays do not check for region codes when they play a disc.
Do DVDs and Blu-rays Have the Same Region Codes?
No, DVDs have ten different region codes, whereas Blu-rays only have three.
Do Blu-ray Players Support DVD Region Codes?
Yes, because Blu-ray players can play DVD discs, they must also support the region code flags for DVDs – like any DVD player.
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 been 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. You can find out more here.