An Open Letter To The DVD Consortium

by Dean McIntosh

Introduction - Why I Wrote This Letter

    In the past few days since my article about my view of the previous year in the life of the DVD Video format was published, I have received a few emails with a few (not so) nice things to say about the Region Coding Enhancement scheme. While I want to assure all of those people who have emailed us here at Michael D's that as long as consumer demand exists, there is no way anyone can stamp out our desire to buy titles from anywhere, I would also like to give those faceless corporations that make up the DVD Consortium a little piece of my mind. Being that I primarily view titles on a Toshiba SD-2109, I am among the many who are affected by this highly anti-consumer action, and it seems that the Consortium have not got the message about the right way to end parallel imports. This article exists to assure readers out there that we are all in the same boat, and to assure the DVD Consortium that no amount of technical trickery will ever stop me from rejecting an inferior product.

Why Consumers Choose To Import DVDs From Region 1

    The first answer to this rather nagging question is to take a look at the number of DVDs which are available to consumers in the USA, and compare that with the number of DVDs which are available to consumers in Australia. The deficit between the two countries is still something in the order of several thousand titles, and shows little sign of improving within the next year. Compounding this is the fact that a major difference exists between the independent distributors of America and Australia: the American independents seem to take pride in the work of their transfers. Many of the transfers offered by independent distributors in Australia are so bad that they attract seriously derogatory comments from all reviewers, myself included. This is to say nothing of the inferior transfers foisted upon the Region 4 market by the smaller players amongst the major distributors, with Buena Vista's transfer of Starship Troopers being so careless and inconsiderate as to completely ruin the entire experience of the film.

    Expecting Australian citizens to put up with a markedly inferior transfer or presentation solely because they are Australian citizens is not on, and in my opinion such behaviour is a form of racism. If you expect users of the DVD Video format, who are by nature better educated and more aware of imperfections than users of any other format, to buy the local product, you have to treat all markets as equally as the laws of those markets allow. It really is that simple, and following that rule would be a much better way to stamp out parallel imports than any Region Coding Enhancement scheme you care to come up with.

    Nothing is more upsetting than finding out that a DVD you just paid good money for is inferior or lower-specified in comparison to a version that exists elsewhere. A number of DVDs sold in Australia fall into this category, with The Thing, Scream, Starship Troopers, and Air Force One being prominent examples in the mind of Jack and Jill Filmbuff. Starship Troopers is my favourite example primarily because Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier are my favourite director and screenwriter, and they have delivered two of the best commentaries in my collection. The Region 4 version of this disc is without special features, and the film is broken in half at one of the film's most tense and dramatic sequences. In comparison to the Region 1 version, it is simply a waste of time and money. The Thing is a classic example for many reviewers because the Region 4 version suffers severely from excessive aliasing, a dreadful transfer flaw given that much of the film consists of slow panning shots. If you expect people to buy the Region 4 versions of these discs, you simply have to provide the Region 4 market with adequate transfers. No amount of Region Coding Enhancement is going to make consumers any less determined about this.

Region Coding Is Being Abused

    No matter what way you look at it, there is simply no excuse for using Region Codes upon a title that finished its theatrical run a number of years ago. While I can appreciate the desire of film studios and distributors to protect their investment in the theatrical release of films in the present market, trying to prevent most of the world from buying an old, classic film such as Robocop or Animal House is inexcusable. Given that these films were released thirteen and twenty-two years ago, and it appears that no distributor in Region 4 has any intention of making them available, trying to prevent a man who wished he could be the title character of the former as a boy from buying the film is quite similar to walking through Redfern in a police uniform.

    There was once a chance that Region Coding could have been accepted as a responsibly-used method of protecting a film studio's investment in the DVD Video format and in the films themselves. The time to convince film buffs of this has passed, as has the time for apologies. Region Coding will now never be accepted by the film buff, and the passive acceptance by Jack and Jill Public is going to fade very rapidly when they become aware of what it is and what it represents. The world is globalising, and trips on the part of Australian citizens to America in which a truckload of clothes, CDs, and even DVDs are bought are extremely commonplace. Even with the current exchange rates being what they are, I have been assured by members of my family that it is far cheaper to buy many consumer items while holidaying in America than locally. Slapping everything with a Region Code is not going to stop them from buying such products when they go overseas. It is only going to make them very, very mad when they get home with a number of items they have bought which refuse to work on their hardware. That is to say nothing of the anger it will cause among people who move from one nation to another (say, from Australia to Scotland as I plan to do within the next decade).

    I've already outlined a number of moves that make better sense than Region Coding in order to protect the local market, so I will not waste my breath repeating them here, as it could not be more obvious from distributor actions that they have no intention of following my suggestions. Those suggestions, in brief form for those who have yet to read them, are to make the films available, price them reasonably, make their specifications as similar from one Region to another as is possible, and to make the transfers as equal in quality as is possible. All of these moves will encourage Jack and Jill Filmbuff to buy the local product in a positive manner, rather than attract the groundswell of angered opposition that Region Coding Enhancement is going to.

Some Questions I Want Answered

    Because of the confusing nature of the new programming that is being introduced, as well as the inherently anti-consumer state of the Region 4 DVD market, I have a few questions that I would like the DVD Consortium to answer. Some of these questions have specific responsible parties that would be better qualified to answer, but in their absence, I will happily accept an answer from anyone. If I do receive any answers from representatives of DVD distributors and developers, I will publish them here, along with an acknowledgement for having the guts to answer, which is a big step to regaining my respect. In any case, the questions I have are as follows:

In Closing

    Six months ago, distributors worldwide had enough chances to prove that they were committed to treating all of their customers fairly, and now they have firmly blown it. Region Coding Enhancement is a move on the DVD Consortium's part that proves to me that they are my enemy rather than any sort of friend, and I for one will never cease to fight against this highly anti-consumer action. I strongly encourage all DVD collectors in Australia to put their foot down and flatly refuse to buy the local product until distributors get the message that positive actions such as equalizing transfers will do more to cease parallel importing than a thousand enhancements to Region Coding ever will. The time to scream out our opposition in one loud voice is now.

© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
November 2, 2000.