HD-DVD is not region-free

in teh great battle of nextgen DVD formats, one piece of information seems to be conventional wisdom: that HD-DVD, unlike Blu-ray, will not have region-coding. At AICN, Massawyrm cites being region-free as one of his main motivations for choosing HD-DVD, for example. But it’s been known for over a year that despite initial reports that HD-DVD would not restrict by region, it has since succumbed to the pressure and will likely have “some form” of region coding eventually. As Ars Technica noted 18 months ago, there’s a chance that this will affect the early adopters (including anyone who buys an HD-DVD this holiday season, it should be noted):

If RPC is ultimately approved and incorporated into the HD DVD format, it is unclear how the players that have already been sold will handle it. The most logical solution would be to allow the current handful of HD DVD players already on the market to play any HD DVD. Unfortunately, history tell us that logic is not one of the entertainment industry’s strong suits, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that region-coded HD DVDs will cause problems for some early adopters.

Note that Blu-ray’s region coding scheme compresses the number of regions down from seven to three – and that includes lumping Japan and the United States into one region, which will definitely turn the economics of the anime industry upside down.

I still personally lean towards HD-DVD for the simple reason of cost. The Toshiba HD-A3 is selling at the $200 price point on Amazon, which is just a fantastic deal (esp if you have or are planning to buy an HD-TV). And there’s $100 players at Walmart, too (though not the name brand). I don’t think the worst case scenario is likely to come to pass because to be honest I don’t see either BD or HD-DVD going away anytime soon – both have years to go before they are a sizable fraction of traditional DVD sales. And there’s always standard DVD formats or the Internet download for the occasional movie I must watch but isn’t available on my format of choice. All of these physical media formats are going to be obsolete eventually anyway.

UPDATE: Anime R1 DVD sales peaked in 2003 and have been declining ever since. I speculate without evidence that 2003 was when fansubbing really started as an industry in its own right – and was a response almost entirely due to region coding alone. It’s also telling that the major players in the industry don’t even mention region coding as they discuss the state of the US market.

1 thought on “HD-DVD is not region-free”

  1. I guess I should have clarified the relevance of the update to this post a little better – the bottom line is that region coding is what directly created the incentive for the fansub industry to exist. It will be interesting to see which nextgen format the anime industry adopts, because the existence of and scale of region coding on that platform will give us insight into the future market dynamics. Does Blu Ray’s consolidation of the Japanese and US regions into a single one make it more attractive or less to the industry?

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