Monday, 8 May 2006

DVD Madness

Apple and the "entertainment industry", you really clock my goat.

In the USA we bought a number of DVDs. We moved back to New Zealand and would like to buy some more DVDs, and also borrow some from friends. The region code control on our iMac's DVD drive prevents this; we have to choose to activate it for region 1 (USA and Canada) or region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America) and you are only allowed to switch a few times.

What's really annoying is that these artificial constraints on what customers can do with their property don't actually achieve the goal for which they were designed --- to allow DVDs to be released to different markets at different times. In New Zealand (and as far as I know, every other country outside North America) all DVD players you buy in shops have been modified to ignore the region system, and are openly advertised as "multizone". (We don't have a DMCA here so I believe that such modification, done by non-contractually-bound third parties, is legal). If the purpose of the region system was to prevent DVDs released first in the USA making their way to other markets "early", that's evaporated.

Well, there is one class of drives that's not pre-modded: DVD drives in computers. But it's easy to find and download firmware and/or software hacks to get around those. In particular, DVD-playing software such as VLC and the Xine/mplayer stack can actually just crack the region scheme cryptography in real time. That's how I played DVDs in my Linux PC back in New York.

But it turns out that one group has been singled out by Apple and the DVD industry for punishment: owners of late-model Mac hardware. Newer Macs include Matshita drives that are apparently exceptionally difficult to mod, and for which no modded firmware is available. Furthermore these drives forbid access to the raw DVD data if there is a region mismatch, so the VLC and Xine/mplayer approach doesn't work. Foiled!

I could go out and buy a multizone do-everything DVD player from a local mall for 80 NZD (about 50 USD). But then I'd have to buy a TV to plug it into. And then I'd have to buy some furniture to put the TV on. And I'd have to start making and enforcing rules about our children's access to it. That's not appealing, although we may end up going that way.

I could buy an external DVD drive for my Mac and mod its firmware, but I can't find one under 300 NZD.

I could borrow a PC and rip all my DVDs onto blank disks or a portable hard drive, but that's a pain and would potentially lead to copyright violation, something I really want to avoid.

So, Apple and the entertainment industry, consider me one extremely dissatisfied customer. The Mac's been fun but I don't think I'll buy one again.


26 comments:

  1. IBM ThinkPad T42p has also those Matsushita DVD drives that stops you playing legally bought DVDs.
    The company name is Matsushita but the name seems to be truncated in some products like DVD drives. Matsushita sells its consumer products with names like Panasonic, Technics and National.
    Matsushita was the main owner of Universal media group in the 90s so this might have something to do with these broken Matsushita products.
    Also I don't think I will buy another product that has Matsushitas DVD drives.

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  2. IBM ThinkPad T42p has also those Matsushita DVD drives that stops you playing legally bought DVDs.
    The company name is Matsushita but the name seems to be truncated in some products like DVD drives. Matsushita sells its consumer products with names like Panasonic, Technics and National.
    Matsushita was the main owner of Universal media group in the 90s so this might have something to do with these broken Matsushita products.
    Also I don't think I will buy another product that has Matsushitas DVD drives.

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  3. it's not just Apple. Some pc's also have a difficult to mod DVD-drive.

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  4. Yeah, I only recently just discovered that PowerBooks from last year don't work with VLC et al in this way. Sucks to have bought a Region One box set in NZ.
    I'm pretty sure my previous iBook from a couple of years ago was fine.
    It's such a PITA and all they are achieving is annoying loyal customers.
    It's another example of where buying a product (i.e. DVDs) is less functional than if you download it.

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  5. And not to say our copyright doesn't allow for format shifting and backup.

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  6. >these artificial constraints on what customers can do with their property don't actually achieve the goal for which they were designed
    I guess the thing is that the 'entertainment industry' thinks it isn't really 'your property', you're just getting a licence to use their stuff under whatever rules they make up.
    Don't worry, soon you'll have the oppertunity to download movies on demand, where you won't even have a piece of plastic to your name and each time you press play you'll have to download a fresh licence detailing whatever the lawyers drempt up the night before... enjoy!

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  7. And if you did buy a multi-region player to watch the DVDs that you bought, I'm sure the MPAA would consider it "piracy." In the U.S. you could probably be prosecuted just for wanting to enjoy the media you purchased! Yet another example of how the concept of fair use has been trumped by industry lobbying.

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  8. Robert O'Callahan8 May 2006 18:52

    karit: NZ law currently doesn't allow format shifting and backup, technically, but the government is actually going to fix that.
    Gids: yeah. Of course, they won't replace the media if you lose it, even if you still hold a "license", so they get to have it both ways.
    Rishi: fortunately US law doesn't apply to me here. Well, in theory. The USA does like to apply its laws extraterritorially when it suits, and it also likes to spread its laws worldwide via treaties, so we may end up under something DMCA-like, but we're not there yet.
    I realize I'm preaching to the choir here.

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  9. Yeah, I put in quite a bit of effort setting myself up with a "watch DVDs in bed" rig at home, all centred around plugging my powerbook into a big screen and speakers.
    Then discovered it won't play about half of my DVDs.
    Thanks, Apple.
    I'd gotten used to my Linux PC just playing anything and had basically forgotten about region control.
    If I squint my eyes just right I can almost see an argument for region control to stop DVD sales harming cinema sales by being available in a country first. Of course that doesn't explain why my SOAP DVDs were region 1 only.
    - Colin

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  10. >they won't replace the media if you lose it
    To be fair, they apparently will replace damaged discs (at least in the US):
    "How do I replace a damaged DVD?
    If you accidentally damage or break one of your Disney DVDs, you can get a replacement disc for a nominal charge of $6.95."
    http://disney.go.com/disneyvideos/dvdsupport/faq.html#common0

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  11. on the windows front, you have AnyDVD, that just disables regions, and more. Should be something for mac.

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  12. I have a Powerbook with a Matshita drive that I can't find a firmware fix for. My workaround has been to rip the DVD to the hard drive using Mac the Ripper (which removes CSS and the region code) and watch it in DVD Player. It is an extra, time-consuming step, but it works.

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  13. Robert O'Callahan12 May 2006 15:46

    Ll: You must have an older drive that allows reading of the unencrypted data. On newer drives what you describe is not possible, the drive prevents ripping of any kind.
    kwanbis: same thing ... such an approach does not work on these newer drives.

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  14. Luis Solares29 May 2006 09:10

    I used to have an older combo drive in my powerbook G4 until it broke and it was upgraded by apple to a superdrive for free. I was very excited about the upgrade until I learned this new drive doesn't allow vlc to work properly. Now I wish the had given me an older combo drive and I would go buy an external dvd burner. I have been living in Spain for the last year and half of my dvds are region 1 and the other half region 2. This new technology really sucks! if somebody comes up with a solution please let me know. I tried handbreak and mac the ripper but neither has worked on the spanish dvds.

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  15. what are the options with IBM T43 laptop equipped with the matsushita UJ-822 DVD drive , which does not yield to any region free software...how can I watch piles of DVDs I have from various zones ( 1,2,5 etc..)
    IDEAS ??

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  16. Robert O'Callahan7 August 2006 07:27

    Buy a hackable drive, rip all your DVDs, or watch them at home on a $50 multizone DVD player.

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  17. I would put in the first 500.- $ for going into court with the fuckers from hollywood! If every pissed user hops in with 20.- $ we could set the rules new! Hey, if I buy a car, I want EVERY fuel I buy be useable...

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  18. Well now I'm a victim of an older IBM T22 thinkpad with a matsu-SHIT-a drive. My sister in the US sent me a dvd of her daughter growing up so I changed the region - changed back for movies when travelling, then back again for the next eagerly awaited family DVD. Now it's locked to region 1 and I can't do a damn thing about it. I rang IBM and they told me "this number is for new warranty support only - your unit is out of warranty!"
    I've worked it out now - the guys lost the war and have thought up a novel way to get us all back, and pass the blame along to the yanks!
    It sucks!

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  19. Absolutely. But pissing and moaning about it here isn't goingto achieve anything. Anyone have a link to a hack / workaround?

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  20. This MIGHT be the workaround. For Macs, at least. I'm on a G3 iBook, so someone with a modern Powerbook/Macbook and some out-of-region DVDs is going to have to be the guinea pig.
    http://www.metakine.com/products/fairmount/
    Small Universal Binary freeware app, distributed on the same disk image as their flagship for-pay app. It seems to have been designed specifically to get around the lock that's keeping users like roc from using VLC to get at the raw data on their discs.
    Near as I can tell: Unmounts the DVD, drops in some kind of abstraction layer I don't pretend to understand, and remounts it as a generic removable disk, at which point VLC is free to read it.
    Lemme know how it works out; I'm upgrading soon, too.

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  21. Its quite funny actually, that i have explained to quite a few people in my time what the importance of DVD regionalising is. Yet I still find myself bitter and perturbed that because I bought a 2005 Powerbook, Im the only one of those people that cant play the movies i want at leisure!
    I searched and searched for the firmware to break it, only to find that they changed the drive just on that model. Im dissapointed to say the least.

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  22. Hi,
    having the same problem, but I don't how fix it. Can anyone point me in the right direction? My computer let me play a region 1 once, now it won't play region 4's. And I have an ASUS (i think thats the manufacturer)
    Am I able to just download something off the Net that will fix it?
    Cheers,
    Cassi

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  23. I would like to point out a couple of issues. First on the external DVD drive issue. I put together a nice external drive for a macbook from Newegg.com for about $90.
    Mapower KC51C1 5.25" USB + IEEE1394 Aluminum External Enclosure, and
    NEC 16X DVD�R DVD Burner Beige IDE Model ND-3550A.
    Putting the two items together took about 5 minutes of time.
    The issue with DVD drives not playing back is because in DVD movie playing mode the drive itself handles the decryption of the movie content, and the drive enforces the region encoding. Traditionally DVD drives in computers also had a DVD data mode for non-movie DVD content and it had no region checking. This is how VLC works, it accesses the data mode of the drive and deals with decryption in software, ignoring the region encoding. What Apple has on their Macbook drives is enforcement of region encoding on the data side. Effectively no more loophole. Now for some older superdrives some people released modded firmware for the drives without the region enforcement, but that has been a while. I suspect this is the beginning of more DRM to come from all manufacturers, so for now the easiest work around is an external drive enclosure and a DVD drive that is friendly to people with special needs.

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  24. I'm another victim of this nonsense with a 2005 PB G4 I bought in Japan and then moved back to Canada later. It's funny how a portable computer intended for travel can have a limitation like this...

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  25. All problems solved right here.
    Go to the following link and you'll be able to watch whatever region you want without a single problem. The website lays out all the info in simple terms and it works. I have a brand new IMAC and this works on it a treat.
    http://creativebits.org/toolbox/how_to_play_different_region_dvds_on_your_mac

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  26. went to new york last august.got a load of dvds region 1 hawaii five o season 2 the fugitive etc and swat.swat played alright but these copy protected dvds ahh ahh no bloody good.tried every download possible to dvd unlocker to css no good.my advice dont get a laptop with matSHITA drive in it.fucking shit hp laptops.im getting an acer for christmas me thinks

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