The regional coding system divides the countries of the world up into 6 regions (with 2 codings more used for non-geographically specific uses). The general regions are listed below.
This system was intended to give producers of films more flexibility in how they manage the distribution of their films. Because the content of DVD/VCDs with a particular coding may only be displayed by a player specifically produced for that regional coding (and most often sold only in that region), this system allows the distributor/holder of the copyright to better control pricing, to stagger the release of films, and, ostensibly, to deliver different versions of films to different areas based on specific regional or cultural sensitivities (nudity, language, religious or cultural taboos, etc.).
As producers are not required to assign their products a regional coding, currently many DVDs available have a "0" [zero] regional coding (and may, thus, be played on any machine). Likewise, the CSS [ Content Scramble System ] law does not prohibit the selling of any particular device in any region. The result being that one may legally obtain a player that plays DVDs coded for any region . Multi-region players are available but usually must be purchased online or through a catalog. (For more information go to the Acquiring Videos section of this website). Computer DVD players are somewhat more flexible in their ability to access the content of DVD/VCDs with various regional codings. Most allow for the user to alter the regional settings, but only a limited number of times.
Ideally, every new title would be simultaneously released in all 6 regions. In reality though, there is a gap from a few months to years between the release of titles in one region compared to the others. This problem, for consumers, is compounded by the lack of standard pricing across various regions, and to a lesser extent, the lack of certain DVD features (subtitles, additional footage, PAL/NTSC format, etc.). Regional settings generally interest most US consumers little, as the major feature films generally debut in the US. For those interested in foreign films, however, especially those without subtitles, the regional coding issue is a real one.
When purchasing DVD/VCDs remember to double check on the regional coding, the format (PAL/NTSC), whether or not it has subtitles (or other added features: extra scenes, interviews, etc.), and, if appropriate, if the version differs from those being sold in other regions. (For example, Chukhrai's 1998 Oscar winner The Thief/Вор differs greatly in its US and Russian releases. This is the case with many films, which were released separately in the West).
- DVD Demystified FAQ - a terrific site that answers all (really) your questions about DVDs. Very thorough and user friendly. Includes a section on regional encodings.