Termination: Region Grief, Local Bloke
Region Grief, Local Bloke.
Text:/ Graeme Hague
In an ideal world – where your world is a small town like mine – you spend your money close to home. Bugger the world economy, or even Australia’s for that matter, what’s really important is that the wheels of commerce continue to spin in your own main street. Sometimes it’s not so easy.
I have what you might call a less-than-mainstream taste in music. An eon ago it might be labelled ‘Progressive Rock’, largely defined by long-haired groups of rock virtuosos performing songs so long that the stylus was scrunching halfway through the record label as the final bars faded away. Lately prog rock has been enjoying quite a renaissance and the genre has been split into all manner of sub-cultures like alt-metal, neo-progressive and even math rock (honest – apparently you need a PhD in quantum mechanics to make the grade as a performer).
The problem for prog rock fans like me is that you’ll never buy this music in your local record store (if we had one). Particularly concert DVDs – you have to trawl the internet and buy direct from the bands’ websites or perhaps the US and UK Amazon stores.
Which would be fine, if we didn’t still have this infuriating DVD region code system. So much for the global bloody marketplace.
You see, I decided to treat myself to a new Blu-ray/DVD player and while the feature list was obviously going to be important to an astute AV guru like myself, the one function I definitely needed was that the player be either region-free or (ahem…) could be hacked. So I can still play my obscure prog rock concert DVDs.
If you read this magazine, you’re well aware that, for years, region coding on DVD players has been a joke. Once you take the player out of the box, all you need do is dance backwards around the room three times, chant the brand name loudly and enter Steve Jobs’ birth date backwards on the remote control – and voila! The region coding mysteriously disappears. It got to the point where sales people would do it for you, while they took your credit card details. So surely (I’m thinking as I consider my options) DVD player manufacturers have long given up on this farce?
Doing the right thing, I went down the local vittles store where I knew they had a few DVD players in a corner, next to the stock feed and the chain saw spare parts. Sure enough, they had a rather impressive Blu-ray/PVR unit, but region free? Nope. Unbelievable. And a bit of investigative web-searching suggested it couldn’t be hacked, although the manufacturer would do it for a modest ‘service’ fee. Which only makes the whole system even more bizarre.
More internet research invariably directs you to dedicated forums and questions posted by people looking for the same hacks, and where it’s revealed that customers are, on the whole, spectacularly stupid. They buy products before confirming it can actually do what they want – and are outraged when thwarted. And they buy products at seriously discounted prices from obscure no-name, no-return policy, not-even-going-to-answer-the-phone online companies and never stop to consider there’s a very good – or bad – reason for that dodgy, bargain price. To be fair, people rarely post on forums because they’re happy. Forums are for complaining, loud and long, and for explaining how their experience with a certain product has been the most torturous and exasperating thing in their lives. Mind you, there is plenty of evidence that many of these aggrieved customers couldn’t plug in a toaster, let alone a DVD player, and trouble was inevitable. The bottom line here is that if you only had information and recommendations about hi-fi/AV equipment from internet forums, you’d never buy anything. Ever.
I’m back to square one. I heard a rumour that Blu-ray players are locked into Blu-ray region codes, but will ignore standard DVDs. Brilliant – and absolute rubbish, it turns out. Resigned to a fate, I started looking at my DVD collection and belatedly discovered that almost all my DVDs from overseas are Region 0 or Region All anyway… despite their funny haircuts, substance abusive (they drink gallons of energy drinks) and black tee-shirts, these clever prog rock fellows have been onto this problem since day one. I should have known.
Which suddenly opens up a whole industry of products and retailers for me to choose from – so I went and bought that player/PVR from the local vittles stores. It cost me 70 bucks more than the best online price, but I bought it anyway.
Why? First, because he’s a neighbour (his free-ranging chickens have a death wish and only survive because the turning circle of a delirious great dane is much larger than a panicking chicken) and I want his business to survive. Secondly, I paid the money and he handed over the player – right there and then without any shipping or delivery period. Thirdly, after-sales service can involve chasing him around the shop and demanding to know what’s gone wrong with my new DVD player – a forum registration isn’t required.
Yes, there’s a lot to be gained from spending your money close to home.