By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Zoned out

Recently Miss Media Nation bought a DVD from Amazon UK with her allowance money. She tried to play it on our iMac, and encountered a message that we were in the wrong zone. I switched it for her, but that was hardly an ideal solution for two reasons:

  • You can only switch back and forth a few times before the drive locks forever.
  • Though she can now watch her British-origin DVD, she can’t watch anything else unless I switch it back. See my first complaint.

Nor does the DVD play on the unit connected to our television.

As I understand it, this is supposed to be some sort of protection against piracy or trafficking in early-release movies or something. All I know is that my daughter bought a legitimate product, legally, and now she’s limited in how she can use it.

There are fixes, but they’re more daunting than anything I want to tackle. To say this is abusive treatment on the part of the movie studios is an understatement.

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  1. Aaron Read

    Just rip the DVD to your Mac, and re-burn it as a Zone 1.You may lose some of the extra features…or at least the elegant menu structure to access them…but at least you’ll get your movie.Check out the tools at LifeHacker right here in general and also here, which may be more to the pointCome to the dark side, Dan…you might find it’s actually a lot brighter than you’d expect! 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    You should try Googling “region hack” for the model number of your DVD player. Hopefully your model will be one of many that can switch regions, or be made region-free, with a few simple codes punched in on your remote.Often the cheapest DVD players at Wal-Mart and similar stores are the easiest ones to hack. Make a preliminary trip and write down model numbers, look ’em up, and you’ll have a region-free player for about $50.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Aaron: My problem with the dark side is that I’m generally too technologically impaired to take advantage of it. But this sounds like it might be doable. Will investigate. Thanks.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Aaron: Wow. This disc is l-o-c-k-e-d. Tried two of the ripping programs and they quit out on me. Pretty nasty stuff.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m sorry for your daughter, but I have to laugh. A bit. The fact is, you did not buy a legitimate product. If it’s not for your region, you aren’t allowed to play it. Full stop. There’s even a separate region for airlines and other “trans region” players.It’s a restriction put in place by the copyright owners of the material you’re trying to view. And by defeating this restriction, you are in violation of the copyright owner’s prerogative. That’s still being hashed out in courts around the world, but it’s pretty well settled in the US in favor of the studios.This is all a creation of the major media industry of which you’re supposed to be a talented observer. Where have you been for the last N years? You might also want to research DeCSS, as it’s tangentially related.This is a system that was put in place by, primarily, the MPAA and its constituent members (Universal, Disney, Paramount, Fox/News Corp, &c) with co-operation of the DVD manufacturers, to keep you from purchasing thing they don’t want you to purchase for no other reason that they don’t want you to get a less expensive version of the thing somewhere else. It’s the same thing as wanting to stagger the release of a film in various countries. (E.g. Sex in the City was premiered in London last week I think, but won’t be available here for a few more weeks.) That’s the whole reason. It’s exactly the same issue that’s coming up with digital TV and the “record bit”. The MPAA (et al) want to transmit with the signal that will defeat the ability of TiVo and the like to record the program. If the broadcaster specifies “no record”, then you can’t record it, even though you still could record it with a VHS tape. You just can’t do it with a TiVo type box. of these things are part of the larger DRM issue. I would have though you’re more up on that.That said, there are plenty of ways to defeat region encoding (and disk encryption), but it would be a violation of law for me to tell you how, and, frankly, I wouldn’t know how on a Mac anyway. You’ll have to recode it and burn it to a new disk without the restrictions.But Google is your friend.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 5:15: I appreciate your explanation. I find it odd that you would think that someone who analyzes the news media is somehow deficient because my technical expertise is lacking.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Success! MacTheRipper did the trick. It gets us 80 percent of the way there. I burned a DVD that has been de-zoned, but that requires a little futzing with before it will play on the iMac. And it gives an “error” message when we try to use it on the player attached to the TV.I’ve still got the ripped version in a folder on the desktop, so if anyone knows how to turn it into a just-like-new DVD that will play anywhere, I’m all ears.

  8. MeTheSheeple

    That private offer’s still open if’n you want.Let me make a pitch here for something — take a look at some of the Philips DVD players on I bought one for about $60 new. It’s -really- good.Some of these players are updatable with a free software flash thing — you just burn a file to a CD, start up the DVD player, and your DVD player plays some more kinds of files.Mine’ll play files directly off the Internet, like DivX- or Xvid-encoded AVI files, for example. My only complaint is it comes with a USB 1.1 connector, which is fine for playing MP3s but is to slow to allow movies to play from it. (USB 2.0 would’ve been fine, but I didn’t think to check which USB it did.)If you have to buy another DVD player, or maybe are considering upgrading to something that can do surround sound or something, take a look. These things give so much more flexibility to your inner nerd.

  9. UU College Student

    You can download various burners as long as your laptop has a dvd burner. If not…find a USB drive and someone who has one. If you check out various sites that allow downloading movies like or other torrent sites, sometimes instructions are posted with how to burn an avi file into Nero. I know all files uploaded by axxo contain these instructions…and you don’t have to download the movie, you can just download the instructions.

  10. Anonymous

    It has nothing to do with technical proficiency, It has everything to do with copyright legislation pushed by the major media corporations, I’m sorry i didn’t make that clear. If it weren’t for the legal roadblocks, there would be no technical issues at all. It would be as simple as copying any other file on your system.I should also (try to) make clear that by declaring your success, you have just admitted breaking the law. You have defeated a copy protection mechanism (region encoding and “locked” DVD – probably Macrovision) which is in direct violation of DMCA, among other things.What I find odd is that someone who analyzes the media (of any kind) is not aware of the rules under which that media operates and which spends incredible amounts of time, money and effort to put in place. Surely you’re aware of the legal wrangling over this exact issue over the last 5 to 8 years?!?!– Anon 5:15

  11. Anonymous

    At the risk of appearing impolitic, let me ask the obvious question– why didn’t your daughter by this DVD through Amazon’s US website? Is it something not for sale in the United States?I agree that the copyright protection is annoying, but to complain that you bought a product that doesn’t work– well, that makes as much sense as buying a lamp in Europe and then complaining because it won’t plug into a US outlet. Unless there’s some extenuating circumstance here, she should have checked to see whether the product was compatible with US technology, discovered that it wasn’t, and then bought an alternative that was.

  12. Anonymous

    Miss Media Nation can Google “zone free DVD” and find a dozen or more U.S. companies selling DVD players (for well under $100) that will play any DVD from anywhere in the world on U.S. TV sets. I’ve had good luck with the “220 electronics” store. And down with an entertainment industry that wants to control what Miss Media Nation wants to watch!

  13. Anonymous

    The region-locked issue is worse for newer Macs than for nearly any other computers. They use drives made by Matshita (Panasonic) that circumvent just about all region-free fixes. See the latest, not very encouraging, information on this issue.

  14. Anonymous

    Dan — To make a playable DVD, just buy a copy of Roxio Popcorn, that can turn the DVD files into a ‘real’ DVD movie for any player.

  15. Chris Devers

    The correct answer is one of the following two approaches:1. Use MacTheRipper (free; debatably questionable legality) to decrypt the disc and place a copy on your hard drive. DVD Player on the Mac can actually play this folder as if it were a disc in the drive, but if you want to be able to play it on the TV or other computers, then you’ll need to burn a disc of it. The easiest way to do that is to get a copy of Roxio’s Toast (commercial, roughly $75 I think?), as it can take the DVD video from MTR and compress it enough to fit on a standard writable DVD — a lot of DVDs are higher-than-standard density, so won’t fit on a regular disc if you juse use the Mac’s Disk Utility or Finder to burn the disc, but Toast makes it easy. (Don’t bother with Popcorn — to stay within copyright law, it won’t circumvent the copyright protection, so it ends up being more expensive & less useful than MacTheRipper; if you’re just doing this with your own disc, it seems like Fair Use.)2. Use Handbrake to convert the DVD movie to a file playable on the computer, iPods, iPhone, Sony PSP, etc. It’s super easy to use, and produces files 1/4 the size of MTR. The downsides are that you lose all the DVD menus (you may not care; you can still get all the extras as individual files), and you don’t get a disc you can play on a standalone DVD player — but again, Toast is able to convert the files Handbrake produces into a DVD playable format, so even then you’ve got options.

  16. Larz

    Methinks the problem encountered by Miss Media Nation is not an exclusive experience. How many people understand the concept of zoning discs for copyright protection?. I do appreciate the protection copyrighting affords my words of wisdom, but I detest how it comes down to a customer buying a supposedly legit product, only to find that it won”t work. I know, I know — go back to the vendor. Good luck. One thing the internet has done has been to double underline the rule of Caveat Emptor.— Larz

  17. Anonymous

    Not to make you paranoid or anything, but can’t the Digital Millenium Copyright Law put you in jail for 10 years, just for saying “I burned a DVD that has been de-zoned…”?

  18. John Guilfoil

    Sorry to hear it, but it looks like another if your readers is correct, Amazon UK should not have exported that DVD to the states for the very reason that the disc isn’t meant to be played on your DVD player.What DVD was it? Acorn Media is putting out dozens of British comedies and documentaries on American DVD.-jg

  19. Al Toid

    Dan (and Miss Media Nation),Thanks. I spent the last year and a half in the UK and I was always having region problems. Either I would miss a TV show and web sites such as were only available in the States or I’d have to buy them on iTunes.Over in the UK it’s not illegal (like someone told me it was here) to unlock your DVD player to make it region free, which made it much easier to get caught up with the DVDs that friends and family would send me.I’m in the same state as Miss Media Nation is now, because someone lifted my region-free portable DVD player after a roommate’s party. Thanks for some of the great advice. And I hope everything works out in the Media Nation compound.-J

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