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DVD Region Code Scam

Some of you might have encountered a very irritating problem with DVDs acquired from countries outside North America: DVD Region Codes.

You might have come back from Europe, for instance, with the latest James Bond flick Casino Royale - or a fascinating tourist documentary on the Rhine Valley - only to find your DVD player displaying the message "Wrong Region". This is because most of Europe is on the PAL system while DVD players here are designed to play only NTSC discs. Short of using said DVD as a Frisbee, you've just wasted a bunch of Euros (or pounds).

I think the whole region coding issue (there are six different regions!!) is a gigantic scam perpetrated by the movie industry. The studios want to control when DVDs will be released in different parts of the world and they also want to stop YOU picking up a bargain while on your travels. For example I've seen the three Jurassic Park movies in a box set for less than $20 U.S. while visiting England. Citizen Kane special edition? $10US in London. Ditto Bridge on the River Kwai 2-disc edition. The classic Brief Encounter special edition? An astounding $5 in the UK.

But it goes beyond that. Some foreign material, like documentaries or obscure films will NEVER be available in North America. What about the rights of the consumer - why shouldn't you be able to buy what you like and bring it home to use here - just like you can with music CDs.

The good news for DVD fans is that you can. For a start, virtually every computer DVD player is Region Free - meaning it will play anything. With widescreen monitors and kick-ass sound on many computers these days, you can enjoy DVDs from all over the world at your desk.

OK, that's not really a great solution for those of you who want to kick back and watch your movies on a regular TV or big screen. And can you imagine the whole family standing around your computer screen trying to watch a movie?!

Good news - region free DVD players models are out there and some of them are astoundingly cheap. For example, I picked up a Norcent player for less than $50 Canadian from Wal-Mart and it lasted three years, happily playing PAL discs from Europe and NTSC discs from North America.

I got an even better deal with my latest region free model: I picked up an Accura (made by Citizen) player in a fire sale at a big box grocery store for an amazing $29.99!!

These cheap players will do an excellent job, but if you are willing to pay more for an upconverting player for superior picture I can also recommend the LG brand. Some are less than $100. Toshiba, Philips and Daewoo are some of the other companies offering region free DVD players.

If you hadn't planned to change your current player, do a Google search on it to see if a hack is available. This is usually as simple as using your remote to open the disc tray and punching in a series of numbers to get the factory setting display. This allows you to change the region code to 0 - and play whatever discs you like.

Hacks aren't available for every player - Sony and Panasonic are two of the hardest brands to crack - but you might be lucky.

You might not think this is a big deal, but I believe it is. Guaranteed, if you travel outside North America you are going to see must-have DVDs at great prices. If they're not NTSC (Region 1) and you don't have a region free player at home, you are gonna fume!!

I'm watching with interest to see how the industry plans to maintain this region code nonsense when more of us download movies online, presumably from anywhere in the world.

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