Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Take that, region-coding!

A few weeks ago I heard about AnyDVD, a program that lets you playback regioned DVDs on any DVD-ROM drive, even if the regions don’t match. So a Region 1 DVD from the US would play on my Region 2 DVD-ROM drive, for example.
Except that AnyDVD is Shareware and costs $40 to register. But it seems a solution was actually right under my nose all along – VLC. Whereas other players in Windows rely on a program like WinDVD or PowerDVD for their DVD playback functionality, VLC has its own built-in DVD decoding libraries which bypass the normal decoding programs. This means that it can also bypass the region-checking functions of these programs and let you play whatever DVD you wanted. This item on the VLC FAQ confirms it.
VLC, when run in non-overlay mode, will also allow you to take screengrabs of DVDs – a feature that other players prevent you from doing.
I don’t have any DVDs that aren’t region 2 to hand to try it out personally, and Googling around, I haven’t yet found anyone who has successfully played back a differently-regioned DVD under Windows. That said, there are a number of happy Mac users who have managed it, and there’s an extensive guide for getting it to work on OS X. Alas newer Macs have the region seemingly set in the hardware and VLC can’t get around this, which is a shame considering the near-ubiquity of multi-region standalone DVD players nowadays.
One legal note: From reading around this code may make VLC illegal in the US under the DMCA because it technically evades a copyright-protection mechanism. Just thought I’d warn you…

6 Comments

  1. The code to do this (break the encryption on DVDs so that, for example, you can play back any region of DVD) has been around for a loooong time. It’s called [DeCSS](http://www.lemuria.org/DeCSS/main.html) and it caused a great big hullabaloo when it was first discovered.
    It’s since been distributed in just about any method imaginable – printed on T-shirts, sung, even tied to balloons and left to float in the air somewhere. Goes to show, you can’t keep this sort of thing under wraps.

  2. [FBI] Don’t worry, we’ll have the UK under the DMCA too soon enough.
    “Fair use” — yeah right! =)

  3. I haven’t watched a foreign dvd for quite a while now, but a few years back i used to use DVD Genie
    Bascially you launch yer dvd playback app through it. Dunno if it still works with recent drives and the like mind you.

  4. i downloaded vlc a long time ago – for streaming on my lan, but never got round to it. We have LOADS of US dvd’s but our dvd player on the tv is multi-region and I’ve not yet watched a dvd on the computer upstairs (whats the point?) or on the laptop – watching a dvd in bed would send me to sleep (must be getting old).
    Might try it though….

  5. I’ve been using VLC for over a year. I have no clue how I lived without it.

  6. I moved to VideoLan (VLC) around 1 month ago and have moved my parents to it and convincing my work mates to do the same. It’ll play anything you practically throw at it (MP3 audio, .bin files, avi, wmv, divx, DVD), got some nifty features (play as backdrop, play at double/triple/quadruple speed) and, most importantly, has got a Playlist function I can easily use. I did use WindowsMediaPlayer, but when v10 came along and really messed up the Playlist function, Videolan was installed and I’m more than happy!
    Now let me just check – VideoLan: free/multiplatform, OpenOffice: free/multiplatform, Firefox: free/multiplatform, Thunderbird: free/multiplatform, ClamAV: free/multiplatform, Nvu.com: free/multiplatform, Apache/PHP/Perl/MySQL: free/multiplatform hmmm. I could probably switch from my WindowsXP machine to my RedHat Fedora machine without noticing (especially since I’ve got GnuUtils installed on WindowsXP).