Sunday, August 14, 2011

Region Free Blu-ray Player Software and Hardware Hacks, Part 2

(...continues from Part 1 of our region free Blu-ray player reviews introducing the main issues caused by the existence of Blu-ray region codes and suggesting a couple of software solutions.)

Region free Blu-ray players (hardware)

As mentioned in the previous part, there is not a region free Blu-ray player out-of-the-box due to restrictions forced by the Blu-ray Disc Association. And unlike HTPCs which use Blu-ray player software for playback, getting your hardware player to read discs from multiple regions requires more work or may be impossible, depending on the model. There are two general ways to transform BD playing devices into region-free / multi-region players (more or less).

Sherwood BDP-5004 Blu-ray Disc Player (Black)
The first method utilizes the fact that sometimes manufacturers (usually unintentionally, for testing or whatever purposes) leave "doors" in their firmware which permit the user to change the region code (or to unlock the device thus making it region-free) by entering a specific sequence of remote control button presses at specific times. This process is usually tedious and may require a lot of tries plus precise timing. In addition, once such sequences appear on the web, subsequent firmware updates tend to disable them as manufacturers get alerted and address that. So you either install the update and lose the region-free (multiregion) capability, or stick with older firmware and get locked out of any features and fixes provided by the firmware updates.

The first BD players which were notable for being able to turn into "region free" were Momitsu BDP-799 and Momitsu BDP-899. Users used to utilize the above method to unlock them. Various Momitsu clones are still available under different brand names. For example, Sherwood BDP-5004 is a Momitsu BDP-899 clone. It can be programmed to specific Blu-ray regions by the following remote button sequences:

87510+1 for region A
87510+2 for region B
87510+3 for region C
(And it seems that 9735 can replace 8751 in the beginning of the sequence.)

The selected region will stay active until the device is switched off. After that the player reverts to the original region code. These sequences also make the Blu-ray player region-free in terms of DVDs (and it stays so on power off, unlike the Blu-ray region code selection). Also, keep in mind that firmware updates from 2010 or later disable this "hack". You may need to downgrade the firmware if your device has a newer firmware version preinstalled and you want to turn it into a region free Blu-ray player.

OPPO BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
The second hardware method uses modchips to cheat the device into "thinking" that Blu-ray region code verification is successful. In general, this method results in a much more pleasant user experience compared to the first Blu-ray region hack described above. Another advantage is that the modchip is transparent to the firmware, so future firmware updates can be installed safely with all the benefits that follow. Downsides include voiding the warranty (this may not apply for newer chips which are solderless and can be easily installed and removed) and higher price - chips usually go for $50-$150, depending on whether you buy a player with preinstalled modchip or install the chip yourself.

OPPO BDP-93 is the choice of many enthusiasts who want to have a multi-region Blu-ray player, and also the preferred BD player choice of the AVSForum hive-mind. It combines exceptional video and audio quality with tons of features, including Netflix streaming, Blockbuster on Demand, Vudu HD support and cinema-like 24p playback (if your TV set supports it, of course). Audiophiles may want to get the highest model, OPPO BDP-95, which has high-end analog audio output in addition, plus some extras (for double the price). But if you connect your audio through HDMI you better stay with OPPO BDP-93. You can mod the player yourself, for example with the beautifully made solderless kits from (free shipping worldwide, last time I checked but better ask for availability before ordering). Installation is easy and painless even for people with zero tech skills. Or, alternatively, you can get yourself a pre-modded region-free player, for example OPPO BDP-93, which will cost you a bit extra. And you can get a premodded OPPO BDP-95 too but it's really expensive.

A cheaper region free Blu-ray player alternative, although not as highly regarded as the OPPO BDP-93, is LG BD550. Similarly to the OPPO, it supports Netflix and Vudu plus Netcast, Roxio CinemaNow and YouTube. LG BD570 is the same as BD550 but with Wi-Fi connectivity.

This ends our reviews of software and hardware hacks that allow you to make your Blu-ray player multi-region capable. If we become aware of any new solutions in the future we will gladly add them to the list of possible options.


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