Understanding Blu-ray region codes can be an essential consideration if you buy plenty of Blu-ray discs. As with DVD, Blu-ray has a system limiting which discs will play on your player.
I’ve bought discs from all over the world for many years. And I’ve been stuck with a disc I couldn’t play occasionally. So, what do you need to know about region codes for Blu-ray players and discs?
- Blu-ray players and discs have region codes to regulate the market and protect studios’ interests.
- There are 3 Blu-ray regions – A, B, and C, which are different from DVD region codes.
- 4K UHD Blu-ray discs do not have region coding; this only affects regular 1080p Blu-rays.
- You can’t buy a region-free Blu-ray player, but you can modify some models. Be aware of risks and local laws before trying.
What are Blu-ray Region Codes?
Blu-ray player manufacturers install firmware that enforces region coding restrictions based on where the player gets sold.
This global digital rights management system actively locks each Blu-ray player to regions A, B, or C.
Because of this lock, Blu-ray players can only play discs encoded for their assigned area. Trying to play a disc from a different region will result in an error.
However, Blu-ray disc publishers have the option to leave off region coding.
An estimated 70% of Blu-ray discs remain region-free, playing on any player regardless of location. For these discs, you don’t need to worry about regional compatibility issues.
Learn more: A buying guide for the best Blu-ray players
What Are Region Codes For?
The movie studios introduced Blu-ray region codes to regulate the market and protect their interests.
There are three main reasons for having these codes.
- Movies are released worldwide at different times. The coding limits a film appearing in a particular region before it is officially released.
- 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 with expensive discs.
- Discs from different regions may offer alternative content targeted to that particular world area, such as trailers, extras etc.
Where Are the Blu-ray Regions?
The world is divided into three main areas for 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.
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 codes 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 You 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, it will also be printed 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 must adhere to region codes because they can also play DVDs and standard Blu-ray discs.
Can You Buy a Region-Free Blu-ray Player?
Generally, you can’t buy a region-free Blu-ray player because manufacturers are required to implement coding.
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 want 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 for a player also depend on when it was made. 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 a big problem.
Most Blu-ray discs are unlocked, so you can play them 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, you can change some models relatively easily if you need to.
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 The Author
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.