Introduction (or why would you need a region free Blu-ray player)
If you are a movie buff you may have already experienced the annoyance caused by not being able to play a Blu-ray disc in your player due to region restrictions. Of course, the answer to the question Are Blu-ray players region free? is negative. The Blu-ray region code policy comes from the dark ages before information globalization and somehow it has managed to sneak into modern times. Sarcasm aside, the system of the Blu-ray region codes is in a way inherited from DVDs but with less number of separate areas. Back then standard definition reigned and the notion of having different discs for NTSC and PAL regions was at least technically relevant. This is not the case with high definition movies. TV sets around the world do NOT differ intrinsically in their high definition capabilities (and BD playback in particular). So the idea of these restrictions now is simply to enable movie studios to differentiate content and prices by geographical area.
While this is (arguably) good for the studios and their business, it is a pain in the ass for dedicated movie fans on account of at least two reasons:
- Editions of the same movie sometimes have differences in specific regions, which means you may happen to live in the area with the crappier edition, which kinda sucks.
- Some high quality Bluray discs are only available (and coded) in a single area. For example, movie fans' darling Criterion only ever releases BDs in North America (region A). On the other hand, European publishers like BFI, Eureka, etc. release movies coded in region B (Europe).
Some studios (Paramount and Universal) are good enough to release their titles as region-free, but most movie companies either release region-locked discs only, or a mix of locked and region-free titles.
Back in DVD times this annoying situation was eventually solved with the introduction of region-free (also known as multi-region or codefree) players, which were able to play DVDs from all over the world. So what can you do to eliminate this frustration in the case of BDs?
Again, just to get it out of the way, there is not any region free Blu-ray player out-of-the-box. Manufacturers of BD players are required to enable their products to play only discs coming from the area they sell the product in and region-free (multi-region) titles. Discs coded for other areas are not supported. That said, there are solutions or hacks for both BD player software (like Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra, ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre, etc.) users and for fans of hardware BD players (for some products, at least).
Region free Blu-ray player software for Windows 7, XP and Vista systems
In PC systems with BD drives Blu-ray region codes are checked only by the software player, and NOT by the optical drive itself. Blu-ray player software products typically allow for up to 5 changes in their settings menus before finalizing the region code. There is an important consequence stemming from the fact that the drive itself does not verify region codes: you can have more than one software player installed on your computer and each could be set to a DIFFERENT code.
And this presents the first solution (albeit not very elegant) to the region free Blu-ray player problem in the software case: you can buy two (or even three) different BD playing packages and have one set for region A and another for region B (or region C, if you so desire). For example, suppose your primary region is A (North America), but you also want to be able to play B (Europe) discs. Then you can have PowerDVD set to reg. A and TotalMedia Theatre (or Corel WinDVD, etc.) set to reg. B. This is, actually, a viable solution to make your Blu-ray player region free (multiregion) capable, especially if you buy a cheaper software player as your secondary one (that could be Corel WinDVD).
There is another software solution to perform a Blu-ray region hack. Its legal transparency is vague, so use the following tip at your own discretion. Once again, this follows from the fact that optical drives in PC systems do not verify region codes and only software does. This means that if the software is forced to "think" that the region code change count has not expired (is less than 5), the user will be able to change the Blu-ray regions indefinitely. Different software players protect this counter by different means, but as is often the case, some kind people have automated the process of "cheating" the software and turning it into a multi region Blu-ray player. Blu-ray Region Tray Tool is a very simple (and free) program by ChiDragon running in Windows tray which allows you to change the Bluray region setting in PowerDVD Ultra 7, 8, 9 and 10 (no support for PowerDVD Ultra 11 at the time of this writing) and TotaMedia Theatre 3 and 5 at will, thus enabling you to bypass the change count limit in these packages. Here is a link to the latest version of the Blu-ray region hack tool, and here is a link to a more detailed description.
For a complete list of all software BD players available on the market check our reviews of Blu-ray player software.
Our review continues with Part 2 dedicated to region free Blu-ray player hardware.