4 Reasons You Might Want to Get a Region-Free Blu-ray PlayerMarch 30, 2021
It’s been about 4-5 years since I dabbled into this gray legal area of the physical media market, and I’ve been wanting to talk more about it for quite some time. With that in mind, I figured it might be a good idea to explain what a region free blu-ray player is and why you might want to consider purchasing one of these devices in 2021. Before we get into the nitty gritty of why these devices are so popular among collectors, let’s get into a very basic explanation of what this term even means.
What is a Region-Free Blu-ray Player?
Much like the DVDs which came before them, blu-rays are region locked and cannot typically be played on devices sold outside of the market for which they were originally intended. There are three main regions around the world: A, B, and C. You’ll typically see these regions labeled prominently on blu-ray cases, but releases in the United States and Region A are most likely to be missing these symbols.
If you’re living in the United States, the region coding you’ll be familiar with is Region A, and all blu-ray players sold in the United States will be designed only to play Region A blu-ray discs. If you try to play a Region B or Region C disc in an American blu-ray player, you’ll be met with a screen explaining that the disc will not play because it is intended for use in another region.
A Region-Free Blu-ray Player is a device that has been modified in order to force it to play blu-ray discs from all regions. These devices are not sold directly by manufacturers and must be purchased secondhand. Region coding implies that manufacturers never intended for all discs in all regions to work on all blu-ray players, so it is questionable whether or not these devices are even legal.
However, it must be said that most manufacturers tend to look the other way regarding the secondhand market of region free players that you can purchase online. It’s actually quite rare for any legal concerns to be brought up by manufacturers or studios, despite the fact that these regions exist largely to get around legal issues with releasing certain films in certain parts of the world.
Why are Blu-rays Region Locked?
So why are blu-rays region locked in the first place? Well, while a studio might be able to legally release a film in the UK or in Germany, they might not have the rights to release it elsewhere. As such, their releases need to be locked with region coding to ensure that they are only being produced for that one market.
Why do they look the other way regarding region free blu-ray players? Probably because these devices end up earning them more money. Think about it — although they might not legally have the rights to sell a Region B movie to a Region A country, what imperative do they legally have to stop potential customers in a Region A country from purchasing a region free blu-ray player and then buying their Region B release?
They stand to profit from the sale of region free players, but they can’t legally be the ones selling these products, so instead they just kind of ignore the issue. To be clear, this really is just my take on things, and it is not the official and verified reason for anything regarding region locking. When you’re dealing with an issue that manufacturers don’t want to talk about and would rather ignore, you just have to put the puzzle pieces together on your own to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Ultimately, I can tell you one thing for sure: companies producing Region B and Region C blu-rays certainly do not have a problem allowing Americans to purchase and import their products.
With all of that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the real question I hope to tackle in this article.
Should You Buy a Region-Free Blu-ray Player?
As with any question like this, it’s really a personal decision and ultimately it depends on who you are and what you want. That said, here are a few reasons you might want to think about getting a region-free blu-ray player.
1. Some Movies Are Only Available on Blu-ray in One Region
There are actually several examples of this. While many specialty labels in the United States have begun to finally release some of these titles on Region A, for many years there were films that were uniquely American which were not available on blu-ray in North America. One great example that I’m pretty sure still has yet to make it state-side is the classic What’s Eating Gilbert Grape starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Although this movie is quite popular and beloved by many film buffs in the United States, it currently only has a Region B release. The only way to see the movie in high definition and own it on blu-ray is if you have a region-free blu-ray player. Needless to say, if you were a big fan of this film, you might be driven to purchase a region-free player just to own the movie on blu-ray.
If you’ve been wondering why your favorite movie hasn’t been released on blu-ray in the United States yet, and you’re curious about whether or not it has been released elsewhere, there are many different ways to research this matter online. One method is simply to use a website like Blu-ray.com and search through their catalog in countries such as the UK, Germany, and Australia (three popular locations for releases of otherwise rare films). Alternatively, you could also just search google or ebay to see if there is any official release of the film in another region.
Just keep in mind that you may run into bootlegs from time to time, and you should always consider purchasing from reputable retailers when you’re planning to import a blu-ray from another country.
2. Several Releases Have Limited Print Runs in Certain Regions
An excellent example of this is actually one of my favorite movies: As Good As It Gets. Although it did receive an excellent Region A blu-ray release from Twilight Time several years ago, it was limited to a print run of just 3,000 units. Limited print runs are typically required for legal reasons due to requirements imposed by studios who own the rights to the films in question.
That said, if you want to find this movie on blu-ray in the United States today, you’ll be out of luck. I actually purchased an OOP (out of print) copy of the Twilight Time release on ebay recently for $50, and that was a remarkably low price to pay, as it usually sells for over $100. It’s just that rare.
However, there have been Region B blu-ray releases of As Good As It Gets which did not have limited print runs and are still in print. As a result, you can actually import this movie for between $10-$20, but you’ll need a region-free blu-ray player to play it.
Another good, recent example of this is George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Until recently, it had only received a theatrical blu-ray release in the United States which went out of print over a decade ago and has been almost impossible to find. Just last year, Second Sight — a UK company — got the rights to release a deluxe version of the film on blu-ray in Region B. This release actually has three cuts of the film rather than just one, and it’s just an all-around highly desirable product for horror fans and film buffs in general.
Despite the movie being a uniquely American film, it is not available in Region A, and you’ll need a region-free blu-ray player to enjoy this release. You basically have two choices: either you buy the old, grungy, long out of print release of the theatrical cut for $75-$100 on average, or you import this deluxe release from the UK for as little as $30-$40. It’s not difficult to see why some fans would consider going the region free route.
3. Many Specialty Labels Have Region Locked Releases
While Arrow Films has done quite a good job of jumping into the Region A market, for many years they have specialized in Region B blu-ray releases, and some of their movies are still only available in Region B. There are also some Region B or Region C companies who simply haven’t been able to produce releases for multiple regions as of yet. If you’re a blu-ray collector, this may limit what you can enjoy.
Although Region A arguably has the creme de la creme of physical media companies in the Criterion Collection, specialty blu-ray labels like Eureka and Indicator are also producing excellent, high quality releases which often come close to the same level of care and attention to detail that Criterion is known for. Blu-ray collectors want to be able to get the best version of their favorite films that they possibly can, and if you don’t have a region-free blu-ray player, that may not be possible.
To give you an example, I recently came across two Billy Wilder films I wanted to add to my collection: Five Graves to Cairo and A Foreign Affair. Although these films have been released by Kino Lorber in Region A, the Region B releases from Eureka actually have more — and arguably better — special features included. I had to make a decision about which company to purchase from, and although it was a fairly easy choice for me, it might not be so easy for every collector to make that choice.
4. Save Money With Sales on Region Locked Titles
This is probably the biggest and most obvious reason to consider getting a region-free blu-ray player. Many of the specialty labels I mentioned above actually offer special sales on their Region B and Region C locked titles several times throughout the year, and this can usually be a great way to save a lot of money on blu-rays.
The best example I can think of would be Arrow Films, as their UK sales are usually either BOGO or around £7.50 per title. After exchange rates in the United States, that usually comes out to around $10.50 per title. Arrow sales in the US typically offer sale prices of between $15-$18 at the lowest, so it’s easy to see how taking advantage of their Region B sales is actually a great way to save money.
To put things into context, you’re going to pay at least $100 for a region-free blu-ray player if you decide to get one. However, if you end up getting just 20 Region B Arrow titles in one of their UK sales, the money you’ll save over their US sales will entirely pay for the cost of your new blu-ray player ($5 savings per title x 20 titles = $100).
What’s more, depending on where you live, you might actually pay less to have blu-rays shipped from overseas than you would within your own continent. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true!
At the end of the day, whether or not you decide to get a region-free blu-ray player is a personal decision you’ll have to make for yourself. Some people will be turned off by the questionable legality of it, while others will simply prefer only to own movies released within their regions. However, if you’re a collector of physical media and blu-rays in particular, this is definitely an option worth considering which will open up your access to movies regardless of region coding.
Obviously, we can’t tell you to go out and get a region-free blu-ray player. In a more perfect world, you could just ask your favorite blu-ray manufacturer or studio to provide the releases you want in your region, but even if they listened to you, there’s no guarantee they would actually be able to grant your wishes. Sadly, there are a number of legal issues which prevent certain movies from being released in certain regions, and even if you petition for a release in your region, studios and blu-ray manufacturers may not be legally capable of meeting your demands or expectations. In such a situation, you ultimately have to make up your own mind regarding what to do about that.