The third stupidest thing in the world is …
You know, the technological crippling that means a DVD bought in the USA won’t work in Europe and vice versa.
Back in the days of video tapes, there was good (if not great) reason why videos from one region wouldn’t work in the other: they were encoded with different numbers of lines per frame, to match the TVs available in the region (NTSC in America, PAL in Europe). This was not a good situation, but one could see how it came about.
But DVDs intrinsically work anywhere — at least, playing NTSC DVDs on PAL players isn’t a problem. So: here’s how DVD region encoding works. Each DVD contains a data field saying “Region 1”, or 2, or whatever. And each DVD player also has such a field telling where it was bought. When you put a DVD in the player, the player runs code that checks whether the DVD’s region matches its own, and if not, refuses to play.
Just think about that for a moment. The hardware Just Works. And the software contains extra code, added to prevent it from working. That, my friends, is a pretty good definition of stupidity: “doing additional work in order to achieve less”.
Now consider my all-time favourite TV series, Veronica Mars.
I came across this first in a series of very positive reviews over at Asking the Wrong Questions, and I was intrigued enough that I wanted to see it — but I couldn’t find DVDs here in the UK, and so far as I can tell, they don’t exist.
Of course I could have bought the American DVDs, but when what? My DVD player will reject them (thanks to that specially added piece of code! Thanks!) At that stage, I had three options:
- Hack my DVD player to remove the region-checking code. This is of course a circumvention measure, and hence illegal.
- Make region-free copies of the DVDs and play them on my UK DVD player. This is of course a circumvention measure, and hence illegal.
- Download ripped copies of the show. This is NOT a circumvention measure, and paradoxically may not even be illegal. I am not 100% sure on this point.
so I downloaded a set of Season 1 videos and loved the show to bits. (I won’t go into the reasons right now, as that would take me way off topic, but one day I will.)
But! Please! Come on, Warner Home Video, I am trying to give you my money! In exchange for watching your show! Isn’t that, oh, I don’t know, YOUR BUSINESS MODEL?
So let’s look carefully at this. I want to pay good money for a set of DVDs. But if I do so, there is no legal way that I can watch them. And this is because the DVD industry has gone out of its way to make it so. What is this I don’t even.
Well, in this particular case there is a more-or-less happy ending. I eventually found that I could buy legitimate Region 2 DVDs of Veronica Mars from amazon.de — yes, they are available in Germany but not in England. (60 Euros is £50, which is superb value for all three seasons constituting 64 episodes). But I had a heck of a time bludgeoning my way through the purchase process in a language that I don’t know, and of course all the cover text is also in German. (Happily, the DVDs have the original English-language sound track.)
This is stupid, isn’t it?
Really, really stupid.