A regional lockout (or region coding) is a class of digital rights management preventing the use of a certain product or service, such as multimedia or a hardware device, outside of a certain region or territory. A regional lockout may be enforced through physical means, through technological means such as detecting the user's IP address or using an identifying code, or through unintentional means introduced by devices only supporting certain regional technologies (such as video formats, i.e. NTSC and PAL).
A regional lockout may be enforced for several reasons, such as to stagger the release of a certain product, to hinder grey market imports by enforcing price discrimination, or to prevent users from accessing certain content in their territory because of legal reasons (either due to censorship laws, or because a distributor does not have the rights to certain intellectual property outside of their specified region).
The DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and UMD media formats all support the use of region coding; DVDs use 8 region codes (Region 7 is reserved for future use; Region 8 is used for "international venues," such as airplanes and cruise ships), and Blu-ray Discs use 3 region codes corresponding to different areas of the world. Currently, most Blu-ray discs are region-free.
On computers, the DVD region can usually be changed five times. Windows uses three region counters: its own one, the one of the DVD drive, and the one of the player software (occasionally, the player software has no region counter of its own, but uses that of Windows). After the fifth region change, the system is locked to that region. In modern DVD drives (type RPC-2), the region lock is saved to its hardware, so that even reinstalling Windows or using the drive with a different computer will not unlock the drive again.
Unlike DVD regions, Blu-ray regions are verified only by the player software, not by the computer system or the drive. The region code is stored in a file and/or the registry, and there are hacks to reset the region counter of the player software. In stand-alone players, the region code is part of the firmware.
For bypassing region codes, there are software and multi-regional players available.
Some features of certain programs are/were disabled if the software is/was installed on a computer in a certain region.
In older versions of the copy software "CloneCD," the features "Amplify Weak Sectors," "Protected PC Games," and "Hide CDR Media" were disabled in the United States of America and Japan. Changing the region and language settings in Windows (e. g. to Canadian English) and/or patches could unlock these features in the two countries. SlySoft decided to leave these options disabled for the USA for legal reasons, but, strangely enough, in the program "AnyDVD," which is also illegal according to US law, no features were disabled. The current version of CloneCD (126.96.36.199) is not region-restricted anymore.
The newer versions of the copy software "DVDFab" (188.8.131.52 and higher) come in a US version (no Blu-ray-ripping feature), which is downloaded if the homepage dvdfab.cn identifies a US IP address, and a non-US version (with working Blu-ray-ripping feature). Some webpages allow the download of the non-US version also from the US (They store the non-US version directly and do not use download links to the developer's homepage).
Some programs, e.g. games, are/were distributed in different versions for NTSC and PAL computers. In some cases, to avoid grey market imports or international software piracy, they are/were designed not to run on a computer with the "wrong" TV system. Other programs can run on computers with both TV systems.
Kaspersky Lab sells its anti-virus products at different prices in different regions and uses regionalized activation codes. A program bought in a country of a region can be activated in another country of the same region. Once activated, the software can also be used in and download updates from other regions as long as the license is valid. Problems may arise when the license must be renewed, or if the software must be reinstalled, in a region other than the one where it was bought. The region is identified by the IP address (there is no activation possible without Internet connection), so the use of VPN or a proxy is recommended to circumvent the restriction. The Kaspersky regions are:
Region 1: Americas
Region 2: Western Europe and Israel
Region 3: Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia) and Turkey
Region 4: Near East and Africa
Region 5: Asia and Pacific region
Especially for copyright reasons, some websites, especially video platforms, can be accessed only from certain regions. For example, Hulu.com is only available in the United States of America. Some other websites, such as YouTube.com, are generally available worldwide, but block individual files for users from certain countries.
Here is a link to a website that can show in what countries blocked YouTube videos are available: http://polsy.org.uk/stuff/ytrestrict.cgi
Some governments also practice Internet censorship and block foreign—and sometimes also domestic—websites.
However, there are possibilities of Internet censorship circumvention, which can also be used to bypass region restrictions.
Some e-mail providers, e.g. Web.de, allow their users to create "rules" for arriving e-mails, including the rule, "Delete all arriving e-mails with e-mail addresses ending in... ." Like that, the users can create a regional lockout for e-mails sent from certain countries.
Some websites accept only e-mail addresses of certain regions for registration.
Regional lockouts in video games have been achieved by several methods, such as hardware/software authentication, slot pin-out change, differences in cartridge cases, IP blocking and online software patching. Most console video games have region encoding.
The main regions are:
- Japan and Asia (NTSC-J)
- North America (NTSC-U/C)
- Europe, New Zealand and Australia (PAL region)
- China (NTSC-C)
Nintendo was the first console maker to introduce regional locks to its consoles. Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) were locked through both physical and technical means; the design of cartridges for the NES differed between Japan and other markets, using a different number of pins. As the Famicom (the Japanese model) used slightly smaller cartridges, Japanese games could not fit into NES consoles without an adapter (and even with that, they could still not use the extra sound functionalities of the Famicom due to their differing hardware). Additionally, the NES also contained the 10NES authentication chip; the chip was coded for one of three regions:
A game's region is recognized by the console using the 10NES chip. If the chip inside the cartridge conflicts with the chip inside the console, the game will not boot. The 10NES chip also doubled as a form of DRM to prevent unlicensed or bootleg games to play on the NES. The redesigned NES console released in the 1990s lacks the 10NES chip, and can play PAL games, although Famicom games still need a converter. The Famicom does not include a 10NES chip, but is still unable to play imports due to the aforementioned size difference.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and the Super Famicom use differences in cartridge cases. A Super NES cartridge will not fit in a Super Famicom/PAL SNES slot due to its different shape and two pieces of plastic in the SNES slot prevent Super Famicom cartridges from being inserted in the SNES (both PAL and NTSC). PAL SNES carts can be fully inserted in both Japanese and American consoles, but a similar chip to the 10NES, called CIC, prevents PAL games to be played in NTSC consoles. While physical modification of the cases (either console or cartridges) is needed to play games from the different regions, in order to play games of different TV systems, a hardware modification is also needed. Regional-locks could be bypassed using special unlicensed cartridge adapters such as Game Genie. The Nintendo 64 features similar lockout methods as the Super NES. The GameCube, and Wii are all region-locked. The regions are:
- NTSC-U (North America, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines)
- PAL (Europe and Oceania)
- NTSC-J (Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan)
- NTSC-K (South Korea)
The Game Boy and Nintendo DS product lines do not use regional lockouts for physically distributed games; however, software specific to the Nintendo DSi are region-locked, and cartridges released by iQue in China can only be played on DS models produced by iQue (although they remain compatible with other DS cartridges). The Nintendo 3DS line however, does enforce region locking for 3DS-specific software, with the exception of Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre, which is region-free.
All PlayStation 3 games except for one are region free. Even though publishers could choose to region-lock specific games based on a mechanism that allows for the game to query the model of the PS3, none did so during the first six years after the launch of PS3. The first game to be region-locked on PS3 is Persona 4 Arena; publisher Atlus declined to reverse its decision despite substantial outcry by some of their fanbase. The decision was made to avoid excessive importing, because all versions of the game share the same features and language support, but have differing price points and release dates in each region. They did however, decide not to apply region-locking to its sequel. Way of the Samurai 3 is also region-locked but only on Slim models. There is region locking for backwards-compatible PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games, as well as DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies. Additionally, some games separate online players per region, such as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. PlayStation Store only contains content for its own country, for example the EU store will not supply usable map packs for an imported US copy of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In addition, downloadable content for the PlayStation 3 systems is region-matched with the game, so you need to buy DLC from US PlayStation Store to use it in a US game. More specifically, the PS3's file system includes region-of-origin, so DLC cannot be shared between different region games much like save files cannot. Also, the PSN Store is tied down on a per-account basis to each user's PSN account, and payment methods for PSN is also region-locked. For example, A user with a Japanese PSN account will only be able to access the Japanese PSN store despite owning on a US PS3, and can only pay for a game with a Japanese PSN gift card or Japanese credit card. However, with a few rare exceptions, notably Joysound Dive, downloaded content from each PSN store are also region free, as are PSOne and PS2 classics offered on the store.
Although PlayStation Portable has no region locking for UMD games; UMD movies are locked by region. However, Sony has confirmed that it is possible to implement Region-Locking on the PSP, and the firmware will disable features based on region. For example, Asian region PSPs will not display the "Extras" option on the XMB despite having been upgraded to the US version of Firmware 6.20, preventing owners of such PSPs from installing the Comic Book Viewer and the TV Streaming applications. Sony's states that the "Extras" function will remain disabled on Asian PSPs until the features are officially launched in the region and gives no reason for the option being disabled aside from that it is not yet launched. Nevertheless, this prevents Asian PSP owners from using the above-mentioned applications on Asian PSPs, as the applications are installed through a PC; and users from the region are not blocked from downloading the application, allowing installation on non-Asian PSPs that have been imported into the region.
As per its predecessor, PlayStation 4 will not be region-locked, although it is still possible to develop region-locked games. However Sony's official stand is that they discourage developers from region-locking and will only relent on special cases (as with the PS3 Persona 4 Arena exception mentioned above). However, the official position is only part of the story. The following examples highlight how in practice regionalisation isn't as clear cut as Sony makes it out to be. For example, a game purchased online from the USA will not necessarily function with content from a playstation store from another region. A second example, is another game brought in the US and a season pass purchased in the UK playstation store will not always work together, this is due to regionalisation. A finally, a game purchased in the US did not allow multiplayer content at all in Europe. Large numbers of playstation users have taken to the official playstation forums to express their concerns about how often out of region games do include some form of regionalisation. Many forum users are recommending that customers be very careful when buying discs abroad.  Another significant limitation of games purchased out of region is that all DLC (downloadable content) is regionalised. This was also the case with PS3 and Sony has made no attempt to remove regionalisation for DLC. Customers who enjoy accessing such content should be aware that DLC is only available from locally purchased games. Much feedback on playstation forums has been critical of Sony and its widely publicised policy on regional-locking, with many arguing that in practice Sony does regional lock games because so many games have some part of the content regionalised.
Japanese Sega Mega Drive cartridges have a different shape and will not fit in the Genesis or PAL MD slot. Japanese Mega Drive systems have a piece of plastic that slides in a place of the cartridge when the power switch is turned on, inserting a Genesis cart will make it impossible to turn on a Japanese MD. Minor modifications to the plastic locks in the systems will bypass the regional locks. However, the console main board was designed with language and frequency jumper sets which originally activated features in the same ROM for the different regions, this feature was later used to enable software-based regional locks that display warning messages that prevent the game from being played. Switches placed instead of the jumpers will bypass the locks. In region-locked games, if there is a multiple language feature, it can be changed with the switches after the game has booted-up (as it is the case of Cyber Brawl/Cosmic Carnage for the Super 32X).
Sega Mega-CD games are region-locked. The region can be changed when making CD-R copies but it's not always possible (i.e. Sengoku Denshou in American consoles will hang in the Sega license screen with a region-changed CD-R copy). Furthermore third party accessories exist that allow booting any regional Sega CD BIOS off a flashcart adapter.
Most American Sega Saturn discs can be played in Japanese consoles, but most Japanese games are locked for American and European consoles. Like in the Mega Drive/Genesis, the use of a switch replacing jumpers, will circumvent the region-lock but won't change the language. In addition, the use of certain unlicensed backup/RAM cartridges will also allow a console to play games from different regions, except for games that use proprietary ROM-RAM carts. Games from different television systems may have graphical problems.
Sega Dreamcast GD-ROM discs were region-locked, but this could be circumvented with the use of boot discs.
The original Xbox as well as the Xbox 360 were region-locked, although it was up to the publisher if a game is region-free or not. A number of games are region-free and will play on a unit from any region. Digital content through Xbox Live are also region-locked, such as DLC, movies, and apps.
The Xbox One was initially planned to have a region blocking policy that would have prevented its use outside its region in an effort to curb parallel importing. However, Microsoft later reversed the policy and the final retail version of the console was not region-locked. However, it is reported that the console is region-locked in China.
Amongst PC games, regional lockout is more difficult to enforce because both the game application and the operating system can be easily modified. Subscription-based online games often enforce a regional lock by blocking IP addresses (which can often be circumvented through an open proxy) or by requiring the user to enter an national ID number (which may be impossible to verify). A number of other games using regional lockout are rare but do exist. One of the examples of this is the Windows version of The Orange Box, which uses Steam to enforce the regional lockout.
Hewlett-Packard print cartridges have been regionalised since 2004. Thus they do not work in printers with a different region code, unless the user calls technical support for the device to be reassigned to the appropriate region.
HP printers have four regions:
Region 1: Americas, Greenland, Australia, New Zealand, North/South Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, East Asia
Region 2: Western Europe, Turkey
Region 3: CIS, Africa, Near East, Japan
Region 4: China (except Hongkong and Taiwan) and India
The region can be changed three times; then, the printer will be locked to a region.
Lexmark printers use different region-coding systems:
a) e.g. OfficeEdge Pro4000, OfficeEdge Pro4000c, OfficeEdge Pro5500, OfficeEdge Pro5500t, CS310, CS410 Color Laser Printer
Region 1: Americas
Region 2: Greenland, EU, EFTA
Region 3 (in CS310, CS410 Color Laser Printer called Region 8): Former Yougoslavian states and rest of world (East Europe, Africa, Near East, Asia, Australia)
b) e.g. MS710, MS810 Monochrome Laser Printer
Region 1: USA, Canada
Region 2: Greenland, EU, EFTA
Region 3: Asia, Australia, New Zealand
Region 4: Central and South America
Region 5: Former Yugoslavian states, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Near East, Africa
Canon print cartridges for the Pixma MP 480 will not work in printers of that type with a different region code either (even when listed on the packaging of the Canon printer cartridges in question).
Epson ink cartridges are also use region-coded.
Xerox also uses region codes. Their printers are shipped with neutral "factory" ink sticks with no region coding. Upon the installation of the first new ink stick after these factory sticks, the machine will set a region code based on the installed ink stick and will only accept ink stick for that region from that point forward. Common region settings are:
NA (North America)
DMO (developing markets, such as Asia and South America)
One method to bypass printer-region-coding is to store empty cartridges from the old region and refill them with the ink of cartridges from the new region, but many modern ink cartridges have chips and sensors to prevent refilling, which makes the process more difficult (but not impossible; on the Internet, there are refill instructions, chip resetters and other utilities available).
The best solution for persons who travel much and need a printer during their trips seems to be to avoid such printers.
Some manufacturers of regionalized printers also offer region-free printers specially designed for travelers.
In September 2013, it was reported that the packaging of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in America and Europe contained a warning label stating that it would only operate with SIM cards from the region. A spokesperson clarified the policy, stating that it was intended to prevent grey-market reselling, and that it only applied to the first SIM card inserted.
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Regional coding.|
- PAL region
- Regional converter
- Fan translation
- Trusted Platform Module
- Parallel import
- Parallel importing in video games
- Nintendo Explains Region Locking
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- PlayStation 3 Secrets
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