As a film fan and Blu-ray collector, I often find myself importing Blu-ray discs from other countries (primarily Europe) in order to obtain movies that either aren’t available on Blu-ray in the United States yet, or that are available in superior editions elsewhere. How common is this among our readers? Have you imported movies from other countries, or do you stick to discs released in your own territory?
Some of my favorite imports include the countless exclusive SteelBook editions released by UK retailer Zavvi. UK studio Masters of Cinema is a British equivalent to the Criterion Collection, and has a number of prestige and art films presented on Blu-ray in meticulous quality with informative supplements. Lately, Arrow Films has done similar work for some great cult titles.
For those who don’t often look beyond their own borders, there are two risks associated with importing Blu-rays from foreign countries (beyond the cost of international shipping and possible Customs charges).
Blu-ray region codes are divided into three territories:
- Region A – North America, Central America, South America, plus most Southeast Asian countries.
- Region B – Most of Europe, Africa, Australia, Greenland, New Zealand, Southwest Asia and the Middle East.
- Region C – China, Russia, and the remaining Central and South Asian nations.
A Blu-ray disc locked to one region will not be playable in the others. With that said, region locking is actually less common on Blu-ray than it is on DVD. If a major Hollywood studio such as Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony or Disney has worldwide distributions rights to a movie, chances are that the studio will release identical discs in multiple countries without region restrictions. (Fox is an exception to this rule of thumb. That studio frequently region locks discs for no reason whatsoever.)
Where you’re more likely to run into trouble is when smaller labels only have distribution rights to sell a movie in one particular territory. For example, most Criterion Collection discs are locked to Region A because Criterion only has distribution rights in North America. Likewise, the Masters of Cinema and Arrow labels I mentioned earlier are frequently forced to lock their discs to Region B.
If you’re determined, you can get around region restrictions by adding a hardware modification to your Blu-ray player that will bypass region coding. Depending on the brand and model of player you own, some of these hardware mods are very easy to install yourself with little effort. Others, unfortunately, may require soldering. JVB Digital is a reputable retailer that I’ve used in the past to purchase DVD and Blu-ray hardware mods. If the prospect of Do-It-Yourself work scares you, JVB also sells fully modded players, though the price markup for that is hefty.
50 Hz and PAL
Countries in the world that use the PAL or SECAM systems for standard definition video may possibly encode PAL content (such as standard-def bonus features) on a Blu-ray disc, or even possibly encode the disc menu and feature presentation at 1080i resolution with a 50 Hz frame rate. These are typically incompatible with American Blu-ray players and HDTVs, which can only accept the 24 fps or 60 Hz frame rates.
Fortunately, this is fairly rare. Most feature film Blu-rays worldwide are encoded at 1080p24 with supplements at that same resolution or standard-def NTSC. Only a small minority of Blu-ray discs have 50 Hz content, and most of those are for European TV shows. Also, some Blu-ray players (such as those from OPPO Digital) are able to frame rate convert the 50 Hz signal to 60 Hz if needed.