DVD Players: Good, Bad, and Multi-Region

A few years ago, I bought (via a friend, from the UK) an expensive DVD player that played almost everything. But now the reading laser in it appears to be dying; it’s increasingly fussy about playing anything at all. The other day we stumbled onto the perfect replacement, on sale in an electronics superstore. For only 89 euros, it does everything the old one did, and then some.

Since this model is made in China, I was fairly sure that it could be made to ignore DVD region coding, though the floor guy in the store couldn’t answer the question: he didn’t even know what a DVD region was. So, as soon as I had set it up and seen that all the basics were working, I jumped onto www.dvdrhelp.com, a very useful site containing, among other things, a database of reviews of DVD players from people all over the world. Turns out that this model is selling well all over Europe, because the number of features for the price is extraordinary. There is indeed a hack to make it play DVDs from any region, an easy one that you can perform by entering numbers into the player’s remote control.

This number combination is too complex for anyone to stumble upon by accident – it would be like trying to crack a safe without even knowing how many numbers you have to set – so I assume that the information was leaked by the manufacturers. Multi-region DVD players are sort of illegal, but the feature is a big selling point in many parts of the world; Hollywood has thus lost the battle for control of DVD release dates.

Many people in the US don’t even realize that DVDs are region-coded. Most movies are released on DVD there first, anyway (which is part of the reason people outside the US want to be able to play US [region 1] discs). DVDs are often cheaper in the US than Europe, especially if you happen to be travelling there and can carry them home yourself. (Amazon US will happily ship them to you, but overseas shipping costs are high.) Some region 1 versions have more and better special features than their region 2 counterparts.

But there are a few reasons why Americans also want to be able to play discs from other regions. Buffy fans, for example: the Buffy DVD publishing schedule is years ahead in the UK; Buffy season 1 was released on DVD in the US only last year.

My new Daytek DVD player now plays DVDs from any region, as well as Video CDs and Super Video CDs. But I no longer even have to go to the trouble of recording MPEG 1 and 2 videos in the special Video CD and Super Video CD formats: put in a CD or DVD in a simple data format, and the Daytek will play just about any video, photo, or MP3 file it finds there. A directory full of images automatically runs as a slideshow. The only thing I can’t get it to play are MPEG 4 (DivX) video files – which is reasonable, since that would require extra decoding circuitry.

August 30, 2003

Unfortunately, it didn’t keep on working. By mid-August, this player has given up the ghost: I press Eject, the panel says “Open,” but it doesn’t open – doesn’t even try. And of course I lost the receipt in the house move and can’t get it fixed or replaced under warranty…

Jan, 2004

I ended up buying a Daewoo DVD player, modified to be multiregion, from Amazon UK. They don’t ship these outside the UK, but, since I was going to visit my dad in October, I had it shipped to him and picked it up there. He had recently purchased the identical model and was happy with it.

When it arrived, the player worked fine, but the remote control did not. I tested my player with my dad’s remote, and that worked, so it was easy to pinpoint the problem. I wrote to Amazon customer support, and was disconcerted not to hear from them within a day – not my usual experience with Amazon. Running out of time, and fearing I would have to return the player and go home empty-handed, I wrote again. A few hours later, the mail arrived, with a replacement remote control. Everything worked perfectly. I put the player into my suitcase, and came home.

So far, it’s working fine. It did start to display reluctance to open the drawer, but I realized that, sitting right on top of the amplifier, it was getting awfully hot. I rearranged things so that the DVD player now sits on top of the (rarely used) VCR, and that seems to have solved the problem. The player also deals happily with VCDs and SVCDs, just like the previous ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *