|Global HD: Bringing in Blu-rays from Around the World|
|Home Theater Feature Articles Video Related Articles|
|Written by Thomas Spurlin|
|Thursday, 15 April 2010|
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For one reason or another, home media production companies seem to operate on separate timetables for their releases. Whether it’s because they believe an item wouldn’t sell or if the costs are too high compared to the revenue it might generate, they all have their reasons. Even with the support from enthusiasts, a film can sometime swim in an unreleased nebulous for far longer than it should. Case in point being Paramount’s recent release of The African Queen, a great John Huston adventure starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn that, though it saw the light of day in the United Kingdom, didn’t hit American soil until the idea had been hammered into the studio’s minds for many years. In order to obtain a copy of the film before that, enthusiasts either had to endlessly hope for it to hit the airwaves of television, or import a copy from Europe playable only on multi-region decks. Whether it’s that scenario or another, all countries simple doesn’t see everything on home video that they’d like.With the sluggish but steadfast rise of Blu-ray technology, it’s almost as if the reset button’s been hit on that situation. Now that we’ve seen films presented in 24 frames-per-second native movement with the crispness of HD’s audiovisual qualities, it’s almost like watching these movies again for the first time – and, well, the production companies aren’t on the same timetable in releasing either catalogue films or new releases to “replace” the previous release. However, particular films might just be available in this region, or that region, which again has sparked interest in importing Blu-rays from other countries. However, the technological bits and pieces have changed a bit, causing some issues to be absolved and others to be sparked. So let’s say someone wants to attain a copy of a particular movie on Blu-ray that isn’t available in their designated region. What are the steps, considerations, and problems that can occur? While there are some, it’s a bit easier to handle – though it can get costly.
Does Region Coding Affect Importing a Blu-ray?
Just like with standard-definition DVDs, Blu-rays are also coded for specific regions. It’s what’s called a Digital Rights Management (DRM) arrangement that, essentially, ensures that sales for a particular film go to the designated studio releasing it in a specific area. With DVDs, the region coding was separated into five quadrants, but the lines were redrawn by the Blu-ray Disc Association upon the technology’s implementation. Though the general structure has stayed similar on a roundabout level – North American encapsulating one region, Europe and Russia encapsulating others – other countries / continents have been roped into other regions. Probably the largest change is the inclusion of Korea, China, and Japan, formerly annotated as Region 3, into the field of Region A compatibility, thus making them playable in North American players without any (technical) issues.
With DVDs, a few barriers can cause compatibility issues -- region coding being one of them, but also PAL / NTSC signals. With 1080p televisions becoming the standard, that’s no longer as large of an issue; beforehand, specific players or compatible televisions had to support PAL’s 576p/50hz resolution, but the recognition of 1920x1080p resolution as the standard has engineered Blu-ray technology to a more streamlined degree. No conversion between different broadcast signals is required, and the 4% speedup that can cause an aggravating jerkiness in motion has mostly been eliminated. Oftentimes, it’s only the region coding itself that separates the film on a Region B disc from playing on a Region A machine. Naturally, a region-free disc will be able to play the core content without any compatibility issues, all points nominal with full-HD resolution. If the resolution skips a beat, say to an interlaced 50hz signal (1080i50), then we’ve reverted back to old, problematic issues.
Therein rests a problem: how can somebody know whether a release is actually region-free or region-locked, or whether it’s assuredly a full-resolution image? Those are questions that’ll need answering before placing an order, because companies like Amazon will not issue refunds on the basis of incompatibility across regions. The best way to discover this info comes in working through some elbow grease and asking peers. One website does a great job of compiling the region status of specific discs, Blu-ray Region Codes (http://www.blurayregioncodes.com/ ), but even that site relies largely on the reports from individual success and failures. Sometimes it requires a shot in the dark by eager importers to build information about a release. Among a community of home theater enthusiasts, it’s always encouraged to share both positive and negative experiences with importing.