Want To See More Of VDO? Get An ‘All-Region’ DVD Player

As I type up this post, I am happy to report that while I am behind most fans in watching LOCI episodes, I have seen *EVERY* project VDO has been in except the as yet unreleased ‘The Break Up’, a situation I will rectify in June of 2006 when it is theatrically released and the short film ‘Five Minutes, Mr Welles’ (which I am still figuring out who to put the pressure on to get this seen in the USA). And there are a lot of really obscure things VDO has done, so I consider this to be quite an accomplishment.

In most cases if I want to watch a VDO performance it’s just a matter of grabbing the right piece of media and popping it into the right media player. In a few cases that still means VHS tapes (most notably for ‘Household Saints’, because that is the only kind of media on which it was released). Given how magnetic media is subject to degradation and damage, I strive to get most of my VDO projects on DVD, a much more stable recording medium than videotape, but unfortunately that’s not always possible. I have horrific nightmares that some day I’ll go to put something on VHS tape into my VCR and *poof*! There goes my copy of a work I can’t replace.

Further I read stories about LOCI Season 2 DVDs being released in England and I grind my teeth at NBC-Universal until I remember that I bought an ‘all-region’ DVD player, so if I don’t want to wait out NBC-Uni Home Video USA, I could fork over some extra cash and catch up sooner rather than later (right now I’m sticking to my guns and my principles and not buying the UK DVDs, but remember that I am a LOCI fan and sooner or later I will need my fix…).

There really is no such thing as an electronics company that sells an all-region DVD player right out of the box. But I learned that people who are far more clever than I am when it comes to tinkering with their home electronics have converted their ordinary DVD players into DVD players that can play DVDs from any country, region encoding be damned.

For those who don’t know what DVD region encoding is, it is a way for studios to control who sees what films and TV series on their DVD players and when. The DVD regions are as follows 

1: U.S., Canada, U.S. Territories
2: Japan, Europe, South Africa, and Middle East (including Egypt)
3: Southeast Asia and East Asia (including Hong Kong)
4: Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean
5: Eastern Europe (Former Soviet Union), Indian subcontinent, Africa, North Korea, and Mongolia
6: China

For example the first Spiderman movie with Tobey MacGuire was released to DVD in the USA while it was still playing theatrically overseas. Were it not for region encoded DVDs, overseas theater owners would have had to worry about lower boxoffice receipts if their potential customers could have ordered the film on DVD from the USA and watched it at home. This is all well and good if you’re only an American movie fan, but what if you wanted to complete your set of ‘Friends’ DVDs at about that time? If you were an American, you couldn’t do that, but if you lived in the UK, you could buy more seasons of ‘Friends’ than you could if you were an American. And at that time Homicide: Life On The Street wasn’t yet out in the USA, but the French were able to buy the first 3 seasons on DVD. While I didn’t give a flaming one about ‘Friends’, knowing about H:LOTS being out there and me not being able to watch it on DVD really bugged me.

When I learned that my then boss’s spouse had an all region DVD player I knew that I had better look into buying one too — luckily I had not yet bought my first DVD player so I grilled him about his player.

It turns out that many brand name and no name DVD players (as well as DVD recorders) are made by the same companies in China and Taiwan. One such company is Sampo. My boss had bought a Sampo DVE-620 and by pressing the right sequence of keys on the DVD player’s remote control to override the region encoding and you could watch a DVD from anywhere in the world.

So then I went to the Internet to do a search on Sampo.

It was then that I discovered Area 450, a ‘fansite’ for Sampo DVD players. Several guys around the world who had bought Sampos and other mostly offbrand DVD players had figured out all sorts of neat tricks they could do to ‘tune’ their players. Through them, I learned which model of DVD player would be the best for me to buy and through them I got my first Sampo DVE-631CF. Since then I bought 2 more of the same model plus a Sampo DVE-612(N) and the VDO home video world has been my oyster and I lose less sleep worrying about the vast majority of my copies of VDO’s filmography.

While Sampo is no longer selling cheap DVD players in the USA under the Sampo brand, it is possible to get similar players that bear the Maxent or Coby brand names (which are made by Sampo) in the USA and hack them. Area 450 has all of that information available at their site (their forum is still active even though the site owners stopped doing news updates to the main website in May of 2005) If you visit Area 450, I guarantee that you will find ways to see more of VDO’s work now :)

Check out the neat stuff they’ve done (and others are still doing) at:  http://www.area450.com/ 

A big thanks to Craig Clayts and David of Area450 — without them it would have been damned hard to see as much of VDO’s work as I have seen :)

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