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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 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 avoid losing sales to the product's foreign publisher, to maximize the product's impact in a certain region through localization, 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 their specified region).
The DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and UMD media formats all support the use of region coding; DVDs use eight 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 three region codes corresponding to different areas of the world. Most Blu-rays, however, 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 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.
A new form of Blu-ray region coding tests not only the region of the player/player software, but also its country code, repurposing a user setting intended for localization (PSR19) as a new form of regional lockout. This means, for example, while both the US and Japan are Region A, some American discs will not play on devices/software configured for Japan or vice versa, since the two countries have different country codes. (For example, the United States is "US" (21843 or hex 0x5553), Japan is "JP" (19024 or hex 0x4a50), and Canada is "CA" (17217 or hex 0x4341).) Although there are only three Blu-ray regions, the country code allows much more precise control of the regional distribution of Blu-ray Discs than the six (or eight) DVD regions.
AnyDVD HD (184.108.40.206 and higher) has an option to turn off the check of the country code of by using the value 4294967295 or hex 0xFFFFFFFF. The software developers say users can also change the country code in the registry value "bdCountryCode" themselves. (Before the change of the value, AnyDVD must be closed, and after changing, it must be restarted.)
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 and Japan. Changing the region and language settings in Windows (e.g., to Canadian English) or patches could unlock these features in the two countries. SlySoft decided to leave these options disabled for the US 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 (220.127.116.11) is not region-restricted anymore.
The newer versions of the copy software DVDFab [de] (18.104.22.168 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).
The software CCleaner v5.45.6611 has an added check to prevent the use in embargoed countries.
Some programs (e.g., games) are distributed in different versions for NTSC and PAL computers. In some cases, to avoid grey market imports or international software piracy, they are 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: Canada, United States, Mexico, and Bermuda
- Region 2: Western Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, Egypt, and Japan
- Region 3: Southeast Asia
- Region 4: Central America, South America (excluding French Guiana), and Oceania; Mexico uses software that uses flags for both regions 1 and 4
- Region 5: Africa, India, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (also includes Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Serbia)
- Region 6: Mainland China
- Region 7: Elsewhere
- Region 8: Special international area (airplane, steamer, etc.)
The desktop versions of HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario are region locked, according the build is 91UKV6PRA1, for the A6740uk released in 2009. WildTangent EMEA, Magic Desktop will not work on models in the US.
The HP FlexBuild Regions Are:
- USA: United States
- JAP: Japan
- KOR: Korean
- EMEA: Elsewhere
- TOUCH: Designed for HP Touchsmart only
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 and South America (NTSC-U)
- Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Middle East, India, South Africa (PAL region)
- China (NTSC-C)
The Atari 2600 does not have regional locking, but NTSC games can display wrong colors, slow speed and sound on PAL systems and vice versa.
Atari 7800 has regional locking on NTSC systems, leaving PAL-made games unplayable on them. However, the PAL versions of Atari 7800 can run NTSC games, but suffering from the same problems as Atari 2600 did.
Nintendo was the first console maker to introduce regional locks to its consoles, and used them for every one of its consoles except the Nintendo Switch, while mostly eschewing them for its handheld products.
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). Official adapters existed inside early copies of Gyromite and could be disassembled then swapped with a different Famicom game.
Additionally, the NES also contained the 10NES authentication chip; the chip was coded for one of three regions:
- NTSC (North America)
- PAL-A (United Kingdom, Australia and Italy)
- PAL-B (other European countries and South Korea)
- Asia (South East Asia, India, and Hong Kong)
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 digital rights management to prevent loading unlicensed or bootleg games. The redesigned Nintendo Entertainment System (Model NES-101) released in 1993/1994 lacks the 10NES chip, and can play PAL and unlicensed games, although Famicom games still need a converter. The Famicom does not include a 10NES chip, but is still unable to play imports unless an adapter is used, due to the different size of the media.
The American 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. PAL SNES carts can be fully inserted in Japanese consoles, but a similar chip to the 10NES, called the CIC, prevents PAL games from being played in NTSC consoles and vice versa. 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. Region locks could be bypassed using special unlicensed cartridge adapters such as Game Genie. The swapping of cartridge shells also bypasses the physical regional lockout.
The Nintendo 64 features similar lockout methods as the Super NES. The GameCube and Wii are both region-locked, the Wii Shop Channel is also region-locked. Wii channels from other regions will display an error message "This channel can't be used." The coded regions are:
- NTSC-U (The Americas and Asia)
- PAL (Europe and Oceania)
- NTSC-J (Japan)
- NTSC-K (South Korea)
The GameCube and Wii's regional lockout can be bypassed either by console modification (the Wii also through BIOS hacking, via The Homebrew Channel), or simply by third party software. Datel's FreeLoader or Action Replay discs are most notable.
Not counting the NES-101 "top loader", the Nintendo Switch is Nintendo's first region-free console, and it is region-free to the fullest extent, such that games from its Nintendo eShop can be purchased and downloaded regardless of region. The one exception to this being the Chinese version of the Nintendo Switch distributed by Tencent in Mainland China. This version can play cartridge games from any region, but is only able to connect to the Chinese servers, thus it can not access any game updates, DLC or online modes from imported games, or download said games digitally. All other versions of the Nintendo Switch are also unable to play cartridges released specifically by Tencent for the Chinese Nintendo Switch.
All Nintendo handhelds except both Nintendo DSi models and the Nintendo 3DS are fully region-free. In the case of the former, only the physical and digital games that cannot be played on earlier DS models are region-locked. The latter's region lock strictly applies to all software designed for it, with the only exception being the application Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre, which is not a game in of itself.
The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 are region-locked into three regions: NTSC U/C, NTSC-J, and PAL. However, it is possible to disable region locking on the PlayStation 2 via using a mod chip or Swap Magic disc.
All PlayStation 3 games, except for Persona 4 Arena and Way of the Samurai 3, are region free. Although 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 three years after the PS3's launch. In the case of 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 (Persona 4 Arena Ultimax). 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. The 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 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 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. As the applications are installed through a PC, and users from the region are not blocked from downloading them, it is possible to install them on non-Asian PSPs that have been imported into the region.
While PlayStation Vita games had the potential to be region-locked, all games released for the system are region-free.
Like their predecessors, the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 are not region-locked, although it is still possible to develop region-locked games. Sony's official stance is that they discourage developers from region-locking and will only relent in special cases (as with the PS3 Persona 4 Arena). However, as with the PlayStation 3, digital content such as downloadable content for games still requires a PSN account from the region the content was made for. That said, PSN accounts themselves are not region locked and an account for one region can be made on a console from another one.
Western Sega Master Systems have a different shape from the Japanese cartridge connector, meaning Sega Mark III and SG-1000 games are incompatible with it. A BIOS included prevents Japanese cartridges (both Mark III and SG-1000) to be used on Western systems, even with adapters. The Sega Card slot on these systems has the same pinout from its Japanese counterpart, but they cannot run Japanese and SG-1000 cards due to lack of a certain code in the ROM header. This can be circumvented by removing the BIOS IC from it. However, some European-only games such as Back to the Future Part III will refuse to boot on NTSC systems. Japanese games can be run on Power Base Converter with use of adapters, but it will not run SG-1000 games, regardless of region.
Japanese Sega Mega Drive cartridges have a different shape and will not fit in the Genesis or PAL Mega Drive slot, which have the same shape (although the Genesis 3 in the US will accept Japanese titles due to its wider 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, thus, inserting an American or European cart will make it impossible to use on a Japanese MD (though minor modifications to the plastic locks in the systems will bypass this). The console main board, however, 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, instead of the jumpers, were used to 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 with the case of Cyber Brawl/Cosmic Carnage for the Super 32X). Despite the console itself being region locked, most of the games, especially ones made by Sega, were region-free and could be played on any region, unless the cartridge doesn't fit the console.
The Sega Game Gear is region free, and some games have dual language depending on which system is used, such as Puyo Puyo (game name changes to Puzlow Kids) and Donald no Magical World (Ronald in Magical World), which are both Japan-exclusive games, but if run on Western units, they will be fully translated.
Sega Mega-CD games are region-locked. The region can be changed when making CD-R copies but it is 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 in the main console's cartridge slot. The Mega CD will work if connected to a Genesis. However it does not share the same AC voltage as the Sega CD.
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 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.
The Xbox and the Xbox 360 are region-locked, but some games are region-free and will play in any region. Digital content through Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 and original Xbox 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. Microsoft later reversed the policy and the final retail version of the console was not region-locked. It was reported, though, that the console would be region-locked in China. However, this decision has since been reverted as of April 2015.
The Philips CD-i and the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer are region-free. Japanese 3DO units, however, have a kanji font in ROM, which is required by a few games. When such games can't find the font, they can get locked or rendered unplayable.
The Neo Geo Pocket line is also region-free.
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 a 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. Steam also enforces a form of regional lockout in adherence to German law by offering to German users special versions of some games with banned content – most notably swastikas – replaced. Steam is also used to restrict the release of the PC port of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to US and Europe only due to Sony having an exclusivity deal with Konami in Asia, and to restrict the Asian release of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy to Japanese-only versions of the games. Besides the law and licensing issues, there is also a financial reason for Steam to region lock their games, since in Russia and other CIS countries prices of games on Steam are much lower than in the EU or North America.
Hewlett-Packard printer 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:
- Americas, Greenland, Australia, New Zealand, Koreas, Mongolia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, East Asia
- Western Europe, Turkey
- CIS, Africa, Near East, Japan
- China (except Hong Kong 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
- Greenland, EU, EFTA
- (in CS310, CS410 Color Laser Printer called Region 8): Former Yugoslavian states, except for EU members Croatia and Slovenia, and rest of world (East Europe, Africa, Near East, Asia, Australia)
b) e.g. MS710, MS810 Monochrome Laser Printer
- USA, Canada
- Greenland, EU, EFTA
- Asia, Australia, New Zealand
- Central and South America
- Former Yugoslavian states (except Croatia and Slovenia), 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. "Officially, " only three starter ink sticks per color can be used; then, the printer will no longer accept them and will want region-coded ink sticks to be inserted, but there are workarounds for that problem.
Common region settings are:
- NA (North America)
- DMO (developing markets, such as Asia and South America)
- XE (Europe).
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.
Some manufacturers of regionalized printers also offer region-free printers specially designed for travelers.
Starting from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung phones and tablets contained a warning label stating that it would only operate with SIM cards from the region the phone was sold in. 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.
As a protection against theft and misuse in foreign countries, some credit cards can be locked for certain regions. If the card holder wants to travel abroad and to use the credit card there, the lock of a certain region can temporarily be deactivated by the bank. Not all banks offer this service yet, and the region systems used may vary by banks.
For example, the Sparkasse Schwyz AG (Switzerland) uses the following system:
Region 1: Switzerland and Liechtenstein
Region 2: Europe (including Turkey and Greenland; overseas territories have the region code of their location.)
- (Regions 1 and 2 are usually not locked.)
Region 3: Russia and CIS
Region 4: Africa
Region 5: Canada
Region 6: USA (except American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands) and Mexico
Region 7: Latin America and Caribbean
Region 8: Middle East (except Turkey and Egypt), Asia-Pacific, Australia
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