Solutions & Problems

By: Mikio Moriyasu - Revised: 2006-07-18 devin


Learn about the problems associated with overriding region settings.

Overriding the Region Settings

RPC-1 Drives
Because the region setting is established by software, third party utilities that are available on the Internet can be used to circumvent the Apple Region Manager and zap the XPRAM. These actions “free up” the DVD drive just enough so that the user can take limited advantage of its “Region Free” construction.

RPC-2 Drives
Because the region setting for these drives is established and locked internally in the firmware, third party utilities have no direct effect. The only way to override the existing firmware is to use a third party firmware patch and flash update the drive.

There are a growing number of firmware patches for a wide variety of DVD-RAM, DVD-ROM, COMBO, and even SUPER drives available for download from "Region-Free" related websites. All of these can be broken down into two basic types of patches. The first to be developed resets a factory setting that is part of the original firmware while maintaining the basic operational characteristics of the drive. The drive remains RPC-2. The second type of patch, however, reconfigures the entire firmware so that the drive operates and is identified as RPC-1.

Problems With These Solutions - RPC-1 Drives

The most significant problem with all software-based solutions available for the RPC-1 drive is that they do not permanently free the drive from the region setting incorporated into all DVD player software. In the case of the Mac, the various region free utilities will only temporarily circumvent the Apple Region Manager region setting rather than permanently reconfigure it so that it is completely “Region Free”. As a result, one of the following difficulties will almost always be encountered:
  • If a user does not run the utility before playing a DVD flagged for a different region, the software will display either a region switching dialog or an error message.
  • At some point, whether it is before playing a differently flagged DVD or after the standard five region setting switches has been reached, the utility will have to be used to reset the number of remaining region setting switches in order for the user to continue using the drive in a “Region Free” manner.
  • When carried out by some, less sophisticated utilities, the region setting switch will not go into effect until after the machine has been restarted. For these utilities the machine will have to be restarted each time the region has been switched to play a differently flagged DVD.
Recently, DVDs called “Smart Discs” or “RCE” discs, have been developed as a countermeasure against basic Region Free playback. These discs actually contain two “movies”, the film itself that is flagged to play in a single specific region and a continuous warning that is flagged to play in all other regions. When the “Smart Disc” is played on a player with a matching region, the movie with the actual film is shown. When it is played on a player set to a different region, however, the movie with the continuous warning is shown. In addition, because the warning itself is a valid movie, the player will not issue a region switching dialog of its own. To make matters even more complicated, there are now DVDs whose “movies” are flagged to play in more than one region.

The existence of these new DVD types leads to another problem when using third party utilities. It is now very difficult to fully and reliably automate region switching unless the DVD is flagged to play in a single region. Most existing region switching utilities as well as the automation startup applications were created under the assumption that DVDs were flagged to play in a single region and that the user would have a pretty good idea what that region would be. When the movie is flagged to play in eight possible regions, however, the user must use the utility and test each region until the correct one is found. To add insult to injury, when the DVD is flagged for multiple regions, the greater the number of software generated region switching dialogs the user is likely to encounter.

In the end, the use of third-party utilities as a quick albeit flawed solution is moot for most users as virtually all DVD-ROM drives shipped with Macintosh computers except for very early Blue &White G3 models use RPC-2 drives.

Problems With These Solutions - RPC-2 Drives

Changing the firmware is a risky proposition. Most sites that feature firmware patches warn users that only individuals with advanced knowledge should attempt any kind of unauthorized firmware flash. From a practical standpoint:
  • It would be quite easy to completely destroy the drive if the patch used is either unreliable or incompatible.
  • This action voids the warrantee so if the drive is rendered useless, getting a factory replacement would be almost impossible.
The most significant problem, however, goes to the issue of permanence.
  • All RPC-2 drives have five sets of five region switches called “Vendor Resets”.
  • Currently, firmware patches do not give the user control over the total number of region switches so gaining more than five of them is virtually impossible. The patches only allow users to make a “Vendor Reset” once the region setting has been switched the standard five times.
  • There is no way for a user get an infinite number of Vendor Resets so once all five have been all used up, that’s it. The drive is permanently locked on to the region setting established on the last remaining region switch of the final Vendor Reset.
  • In addition, because flashing the drive constitutes an "unauthorized" Vendor Reset, it is possible for the number of remaining Vendor Resets to jump from "five" to "three" to “one” rather than go from "five" to "four" to “three” and so on.
If the user decides to use one of the new firmware patches and reconfigure his drive so that it becomes RPC-1, then it is likely he will encounter all of the problems mentioned above for RPC-1 drives. In addition, not all DVD drives currently have compatible updates that will accomplish this.