Music

DVD Playas

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Q: On a recent trip to London, I plunked down several quid on the latest Ali G DVD. Imagine my horror when I popped it into my DVD player back home, and was informed that the disc was unplayable because of a “regional code” problem. As beer-addled Everyman Cliff Clavin once asked, “What’s up with that?”

Depending on your point of view, region codes are Hollywood’s way of either (a) foiling digital pirates, or (b) flipping the bird to foreign-film buffs. Embedded on most discs, the codes prevent DVDs purchased on one continent from being played in another. There are still ways around this, but Big Media’s getting ever hipper to the tricks.

The regional coding system currently breaks down the globe into six regions. The U.S. and Canada are region one, while Great Britain is in region two. Look at the back cover of your cherished Ali G DVD—is there a picture of a little globe with a “2” on it? That’s the telltale sign that your disc will only work with players manufactured for the European market. Odds are your DVD hardware was purchased in the States, and is thus programmed to only accept discs labeled with a “1.”

Movie studios say that region coding’s a necessary evil, to prevent folks in, say, Mongolia (region five) from watching—and perhaps pirating—the first season of King of the Hill before the set’s Asian release. As you found out the hard way, however, the practice tends to rile DVD-heads whose tastes run toward anime, kung fu, or Bolivian melodrama. Foreign discs ordered online, or picked up during trips abroad, often wind up being non-simpatico with American players.

The simplest way to prevent cinematic disappointment is to make sure your potential purchase won’t have a coding problem. If you’re in a foreign DVD shop, check the back of the package to make sure the globe icon’s emblazoned with a “0,” which means it’ll play on any machine. And if you’re purchasing from an online vendor, make sure to inquire about the region code; the Open Directory Project (