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Unacceptable: Hardware region locking on Mac

I’ve always hated the whole idea of region-locked DVDs. To play DVDs on your computer then requires getting a region-free drive, hacking your DVD drive’s firmware, or using region-unlocking software. Thankfully, I’ve always been able to get around this problem, mostly by using programs like VLC which normally play your DVD regardless of region. However, a friend recently told me that VLC wasn’t playing DVDs on his new iBook. Sure enough, some research on the net confirms that the latest Macs ship with Matshita drives that have hardware region-locking, i.e. raw access to the DVD is blocked through hardware if the regions don’t match, so even VLC et. al. cannot play the disc. Thankfully, my powerbook (purchased in Feb ’05) doesn’t have the hardware region-locked drive, so I can play DVDs on VLC with no problems.

This is serious. Most non-Macs have drives that don’t have this restriction, hence VLC on Windows or Linux can run DVDs easily. I wouldn’t spend (or recommend spending) S$3000 on a new iMac or a Macbook Pro as of now. Here’s why:

  • Watching DVDs is one of the basic tasks on any computer. Apple’s selling all of it’s new computers with Front Row, which has an explicit option for playing DVDs. There’s no point in emptying your wallet if your computer can’t play half the DVDs you buy.
  • DVDs aren’t really region specific. Just go to HMV here in Singapore, they have both region 1 and region 3 DVDs in the store. What’s more, if I buy a laptop computer, I’m expected to travel everywhere with it; and if I can’t watch DVDs where ever I go, that’s a big minus.
  • The only people this bugs is people who legitimately buy DVDs. Pirated downloads or discs have no such problems. Do Apple and Hollywood actually want to encourage piracy?
  • Not only non-Mac PCs, but even DVD-players and home theater systems for homes are totally region-free, and advertised as such. It seems that Macs are the only media devices left that have this arcane and insane locking mechanism and can’t be circumvented.
    One dude on the net has advertised a solution to the problem which basically says “Windows to the rescue!”: he actually uses VLC on Windows XP to output to a UDP stream and access the stream from his Mac using VLC. I can’t tell you how much that hurts.

In short – Apple, region locking is dumb and harmful to customers and hence your business. Please, please fix it ASAP.