Mid-Week Poll: Do You Import Blu-rays from Other Countries?

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).

Region Locking

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.

Do You Import Blu-rays?

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30 comments

  1. William Henley

    Been importing like crazy lately. Now that I have a region-free player, I don’t have to worry about region codings and PAL content, so I just buy when I find a good deal, instead of doing all the research to see if its compatable or not. Just got in three discs that were region-free but 1080i50 (BBC documentaries), and four other movies that were Region B locked. I usually order overseas to save money (amazon.co.uk has ridiculous cheap prices on sets), and I LOVE Zavvi’s steelbooks. I have picked up ONE movie that was released by a regional distributor that is not available in the US (even though its an American movie), but the quality reminds me of HDTV circa 1998 with compression issues and artifacting. Still, I have the movie.

    • William Henley

      Trust me, paying the extra to get a region-free player has saved me a TON of money in the long run from importing. Oh, and if you order from Amazon.co.uk, they take VAT off the price, which pretty much covers the shipping charges. Sadly, Zavvi doesn’t do that, but they have reasonable shipping rates.

  2. HuskerGuy

    I don’t really import from all over the world, pretty much just Amazon’s UK site. I’ve imported a handful of things that were available there that had no forseeable US release or were ridiculously cheap compared to the US sets.

    • Pedram

      Same here. Recently got the (region free) BTTF trilogy set for $27 including shipping from Amazon UK, while on Amazon CA it’s $40 even before tax.
      Not sure why they sell it so much cheaper in the UK sometimes.

  3. Lord Bowler

    I’ve imported a DVD disc years ago that I could not get anywhere else, and I don’t own a Region-free player, yet. I used my PC to create a Region DVD Copy so I could watch it on my player.

    Now, with Blu-Rays, there are a few that I want that have no release date in the US, so I’m planning on importing them and picking up a Region-Free Blu-Ray player.

    Any suggestions on a good Region-Free player and where it should be purchased?
    Been looking at the “Orei BDP-M2 Multi Region Zone Code Free 2D/3D Blu Ray DVD Player – PAL/NTSC – Worldwide Voltage” from Amazon.com $130. May as well get 3D while I’m at it.

    • William Henley

      I have this player and love it. My only complaint is that the player LOOKS cheap – ie it LOOKS like its a $20 player. However, the thing is ridiculously fast, has resume from the last play point (huge plus), supports PAL (which is nice), has built-in calibration settings (if you don’t want to mess with the color adjustments on the television), supports DLNA.

      Note that this does NOT have WiFi – I have an ethernet cable running to it.

      It also plays files off of USB drives (and it supports MKV). I haven’t tried an AVCHD disc yet, but I would be shocked if it doesn’t play.

      Now for DVD its region free. For Blu-Ray, you have to change the region code. Just go into the settings menu, punch in 8520 on the remote, and change the region.

      The player also supports CEC, which is nice if you don’t want to use the player’s remote.

      If you don’t want to pluck down several hundred for the Oppo, than I highly recommend this player. LOVE it. Like I said, the only drawback is that it looks cheap.

      If I were to review it, it would get like 4.5 out of 5 stars, with the only drawback being its cosmetics.

      • Lord Bowler

        Thanks for the great review. I’m sold.

        I also have an Ethernet Cable running to my setup, most of my devices are wireless, but its nice to have a hard-wire option for those that don’t.

  4. Timcharger

    “Yes, I have a region-free Blu-ray player and import discs from all over the world.”

    More accurately for me:

    Yes, I have a region-free Blu-ray player and I RARELY import discs from SOME PLACES around the world.

    My purchases usually are a cost-benefit decision. So rarely should it be a better value to import discs. Sure on occasion, one may pay more (sometimes much more) to get some import exclusive.

    A reluctant importer is the my best answer to this poll.

  5. I don’t have a region free player, but that’s fine since most of the discs I want to import are either in my region or come from regions (Korea, Japan) that don’t bother with region locking (Hong Kong, Taiwan). I mostly only import discs that don’t have US releases or where the US release has inferior picture or audio quality. I have imported a few discs from the UK sheerly because the price was so much lower, even considering shipping, but those have also been all-region as well.

  6. I’ve imported a couple of collections from the UK…including the LETHAL WEAPON collection (a good year before it was released here in the states, although we got the same packaging) and the impressive HITCHCOCK COLLECTION, which had much nicer packaging in the UK (although it lacked NORTH BY NORTHWEST…which I already had the digibook of, so no big deal).

  7. Daniel Rowen

    Japanese (and Hong Kong) blu-rays of Studio Ghibli movies are superior than the US ones as they instantly boot to the menu and do not have millions of trailers…also you can get them before the movies release in the US typically. That’s the only time I’ve imported blu-rays since they were still Region A

  8. Dr Paul

    I originally bought region A players so I could buy discs from Amazon US. I’m in Australia so I get new releases a lot sooner and cheaper than the local version especially 3D which are usually $50 locally.

    I now rip 3D ISOs using AnyDVD HD for Popcorn hour playback and 2D discs become MKVs using MakeMKV also for the PCH so the disc player is not that important any more unless the PCH has issues.

    I love going directly to the movie, don’t care about extra features or commentaries and like having a video jukebox.

  9. malakai

    I’ve imported laserdiscs and vhs to a small extent but mainly jumped on board with the HD-DVD format, and later of course, blu-ray. It just amazes me how much blu-ray 3D content comes to Europe or Asia that doesn’t ever make its way here. When the movies come here, it’s usually in 2D form. I’d say every-other month, I purchase some type of import blu-ray on average.

    • William Henley

      What movies in particular are you refering to? The only one I can think of is Dune, and I think that was an anaglyph release.

      I’m a 3D fanboy, so any chance to pick up extra movies is a plus for me.

  10. CriticalMass

    I have imported multi-region BD’s in the past, but was always limited to an AU PS3 as my player, so any discs locked to Region A or C were just out of reach.

    I have since corrected that by picking up a Pioneer BDP-150, which I then had to downgrade, then upgrade to custom firmware to allow for region switching… this has now opened up a whole new world of titles that are deemed unworthy of release in Australia. Classics such as The Fly, That Thing You Do, Legend (director’s cut), etc… not to mention the joy of now being able to own and play Criterion BD’s.

    Region coding is a pet hate of mine… since I am in one of the countries that typically gets shafted on many realeases. I have been a collector of Criterion’s since the old laserdisc days (I still have a few tasty box sets from the era… although no laserdisc player!), and it is a cold hard slap in the face to not only he denied from continuing/replacing my collection on newer formats, but to be even denied the ability to purchase Criterion titles because I do not reside in the US, well that is just “Fuck You” material!

    • I agree. Region coding is something of the past. Or should be. The argument about “influencing box office results” is not really valid anymore, with worldwide release dates for most movies. Plus, in the age of dwindling sales, movie studios should be happy that we are prepared to buy their movies – be it in Region A, B or C. We BUY them. We allow them to make a profit.

      • A lot of it has to do with distribution rights, though. One studio has the right for North American distribution, while another has the rights for European distribution, etc. So if you’re Studio A, you don’t want Studio B making money off a title in your region.

        • CriticalMass

          All the more reason the industry needs to wake up to the modern world and recognise the global marketplace that we now live in.

          I refuse to feel sorry for an industry that treats is customers with such contempt.

        • William Henley

          I really don’t get this myself. I mean, I can see if a local distributor is making a dub, but those generally come out months or years after the original release (I am thinking Funimation as an example of a US company that does this). However, this doesn’t really work any more with only three regions, I mean, if a distributor makes, say, a Norwegian dub, people in Noraway can still import and play discs from the UK, France, Germany, etc. Also with my above example of Funimation, the US and Japan are the same region, so region coding doesn’t work there. Truthfully, it seems to me that, unless you have to get a show as soon as it comes out, it seems that people in Japan would be reverse-importing these shows from the US as discs are considerably cheaper in the US than in Japan (as in sometimes 1/3-1/4th the cost), especially since anime in the US almost always includes the original Japanese tracks.

          I also see different distributors in the US and Canada on some films, and this is really strange. Why would two countries that border and speak the same language have different distributors? But they are in the same region-code.

          No, this argument really just does not work anymore. With digital delivery in many countries, and with expedited shipping, and with many studios producing their own dubs and subtitled releases, having different distributors just does not make sense, and if you are going to have different distributors, it just seems to make sense that you would have more regions (ie think a region per language-region).

          There is honestly no reason to have three regions. It’s stupid. You have different distributiors in the same region, so you are not really protecting anyone here.

        • William Henley

          No, just problems of discs becoming so scratched you cannot play them after a couple of years, and not having enough disc space for lossless audio and HD bonus features (ie just about every HD-DVD there is).

          🙂

          Although HD-DVD did have a few pros – no region coding, and the ability to do 1080p at framerates other than just 24fps.

  11. Jak Donark

    I started importing last spring when I found out about the Schindler’s List Limited Edition from the UK. I preordered through Zavvi and ended up having it cancelled because they ran out of stock for preorders. I’m still in search of one for a decent price… Since then I’ve imported 40-50 titles, mainly because they at cheaper or for a steelbook version. Just received all three Toy Story Steelbooks from Zavvi. I recently sold my BTTF trilogy (first release with itunes digital copies in that impossible to remove packaging). Sold it for around $25, got the UK version with Ultraviolet copies for $17 shipped. Also got Dances With Wolves theatrical cut (with UV copy!) for under $10. Just last week got the Conan 1&2 steelbook from France, uncut version, fixed audio, and Destroyer has a ton of extras. Way better than the North American version and it was only $30 shipped. Just about to place another order with amazon.uk for Hard Target, Sudden Death, Red Sonja. And Hannibal (with extras!)

  12. plissken99

    I have a region modded Oppo, and import movies here and there. It’s beyond retarded that we still have to deal with this region crap. It spites casual fans, and always gets worked around by us hardcore people.

  13. Blaine

    Good that you mentioned the two risks. Coincidentally, I’ve imported exactly two times from amazon.uk.

    The first was Masters of Cinema – Repo Man, based on the review on HiDefDigest that left off the fact it was region coded. I had to pick up a cheap Seiki player to watch it (once) before the Criterion version came out a few months later.

    The second order was for the region free Sherlock Seasons 1 & 2 boxset to save a few bucks, only to find the playback was 50 Hz and would not work with my standard player and TV. I was able to play it on the computer to the TV anyway. I didn’t get around to trying the Seiki player, but after reading this I’m tempted to try it, just to see if it is like the old DVD days where my cheapest player (Apex) seemed to play anything.

    I haven’t bothered trying a third time, since it seems more hassle than it is worth. Nice to see I hit both possible issues with only two tries!

  14. lone_gunmen

    Australian here. I have recently purchased an inexpensive player and I tend to only really buy Criterion Collection discs from Amazon or if there’s a sale I’ll buy the odd catalogue title if it’s cheaper than the stores here.

  15. EvilResident

    I used to import ALL THE TIME back in the days of HD DVD. Now, I occasionally import region-free discs. It’s pretty rare, though.

  16. Robert Huey

    Im thinking on buying a Oppo BDP-103 for
    Multiregion multizone etc. What do you think of JVB Digital as mention in the poll? Thanks for the help.
    Robert

  17. William Henley

    You know, it is interesting coming back to this poll after a week and looking at the results. This really shouldn’t surprise me in our community, but I am still shocked that there are that many people who have Region-Free players. I was expecting it to be maybe 30%

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