Any region DVD DVD logo

How to Play DVDs with any Region Code on Windows 98

by John Walker

Introduction and Disclaimer

This document explains how to patch the Windows 98 registry to enable you to use Microsoft's DVD Player accessory to play Digital Video Discs (DVD) with any region code. If you live in Europe (Region 2), for example, you'll be able to play discs you purchase from on-line vendors in North America (Region 1), as well as Region 2 discs you buy locally.

Disclaimer: Editing the Windows registry always runs the risk of disaster. Accidentally delete or change this or that obscure tag deep within the registry, and you may end up with a system which won't boot, potentially requiring complete re-installation of all your software and recovery of your data from backups (you do have current backups, don't you?). Always make a backup of the registry onto removable media before editing it, and be sure to have a rescue MS-DOS boot floppy at hand in case disaster strikes. (These are precautions any Windows user should take in any case--they are not specific to the procedures described in this document.)

Second, be aware that the movie studios do not want you to be able to view DVDs from regions other than where you reside, and that Microsoft have deliberately restricted your freedom to do so by introducing an obscure lock in the DVD Player software delivered with Windows 98. Microsoft being Microsoft, the implementation of said lock is the usual laughably insecure slapdash lash-up one expects from the Redmond code kiddies and is predictably trivial to circumvent. But note that in the world of Microsoft, nothing ever stays the same for very long, so once information on how to bypass the region lock is disclosed, it's probable a future "upgrade" will introduce a different mechanism, perhaps incorporating some form of revenge on those who follow these instructions. So beware, be extra-careful your system matches the configuration described herein, and be ready to restore the registry if something blows up in your face.

Third, note that these instructions circumvent only the software region lock implemented in the standard Microsoft DVD Player, and assume the DVD decoder board in your computer does not enforce a region lock in hardware; if it does, you're out of luck unless you find a way to change the hardware region code. Many DVD decoder boards come with their own proprietary DVD player software which enforces region codes in a different manner than the Microsoft player described herein. In most cases, however, you can still use the standard Microsoft DVD player to circumvent region locking (although it may lack some features compared to the player supplied with your decoder card).

Finally, please be acutely aware that this kind of configuration tweaking is sensitively dependent on initial conditions--tiny differences in hardware and software configuration can turn a sure-fire fix for one system into a firestorm of chaos on another. This document is based on experiments performed on a Dell Dimension XPS R400 (400 MHz Pentium II) machine with a Quadrant International CineMaster DVD decoder card and an STB nVidia ZX display card with 8 Mb of graphics RAM. This computer was assembled in Ireland for customer delivery in Switzerland, both countries in DVD region code 2. File sizes, date and time, and MD5 checksums of the DVD-related files in C:\WINDOWS on this system are as follows:

File Name Size (bytes) Date and Time MD5 Checksum
DVDPLAY.EXE 139,264 05-11-98 8:01p CE4F4B6A2B117D02CCB49EDF15CD5A42
DVDRGN.EXE 57,344 05-11-98 8:01p 1FD81038A34822F847B6BF18B4E18172

What you see when you explore this dark corner of your own computer (which is your property--you paid for it, and you can do anything you want with it) may differ from the example that follows; if it does, take extra care you don't snag a tripwire. In any case, all responsibility for consequences of twiddling the Windows registry as described in this document is entirely your own. Not only is this the proper way intelligent adults share information they've gleaned from close examination of products conceived to restrict their ability to share information in a global market, it avoids unnecessarily triggering Fourmilab's orbiting GlobalShieldTM Anti-Lawyer Laser, about which further details are unavailable at this time. Zot... Zot...

Background: DVD Region Codes--The Studios Strike Back

So what's this "region code" stuff about, anyway? Well, you see, now that the world is becoming one big borderless net-wired marketplace, the Hollywood movie studios find themselves in a spot of bother with their usual movie release timetable. Hollywood pictures are typically first released in theatres in the U.S. and Canada; then subsequently in Europe and Japan; Southeast Asia; Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand; Africa, India, Pakistan, and the nations of the ex-Soviet Union; and finally (if at all) in China. By the time a film opens in a theatre in South America, it may have been available on video in the U.S. for many months. With earlier video media, language barriers reduced the likelihood of videos seeping out of the U.S. torpedoing the theatrical market in other countries, but since DVDs typically include multiple language soundtracks and subtitles, they pose a much greater risk to the studios. As a result, in return for supporting the DVD format, studios compelled DVD player manufacturers to incorporate a "region code", which causes players to refuse to play a disc intended for sale in a different market. Here's how imperial Hollywood divides the world into provinces.

DVD Region Code map

DVD Region 1 logo The region code for a given disc can usually be found as a small logo on the back of the package, a Mollweide projection world map with the region code digit superimposed. The logo at right is from a DVD purchased in and coded for the United States (Region 1) which contains soundtracks in English and French, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The logo at right is from a DVD purchased in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, coded for Region 2, containing soundtracks in English, French, and Italian, with English, French, Italian, DVD Region 2 logo and Dutch subtitles. The actual DVD disc may also bear the region code logo, but not all do. Note that region coding in many circumstances prevents DVDs with multiple soundtracks from being used as language learning aids. Many DVDs sold in North America contain only English and French soundtracks (the latter a requirement to sell in Canada). An individual in the U.S. who wishes to improve, for example, their Spanish language skills, cannot order a Spanish soundtrack DVD made for sale in Latin America (Region 4), because it won't play on a Region 1 player. Nor could the same person practice German comprehension with a German language disc made for Europe, yet a person living in the United Kingdom can play Region 2 discs in all of the European languages, but not English-language discs purchased from a merchant in the U.S.

All of this is such a mess for folks living outside Region 1 that a thriving market has sprung into being for DVD players modified to accept discs with any region code. Vendors such as CodeFree DVD offer a variety of players with region locking defeated. (I have no connection with CodeFree DVD, other than having purchased a modified Pioneer DV-606 player from them with which I am completely satisfied.) But a stand-alone player doesn't help if you wish to view DVDs using the DVD-ROM drive in your computer. So let's take a closer look at the Microsoft DVD player and see if we can work around its region locking.

Running Microsoft's DVD Player

Unlike consumer DVD players which contain hard-wired region locking, many PC DVD decoder cards are not inherently hardware region locked, but instead implement region locking in part within the DVD player software. A generic DVD Player application is shipped with Windows, launched with the following sequence of menus.

Launch Microsoft DVD Player

This player is, in fact, unless blocked by hardware region locking on the decoder board, able to play discs with any region code whatsoever. (Note that this may not be the case with DVD Player software supplied by the manufacturer of your decoder card; the Quadrant International CineMaster DVD card in the computer on which I prepared this document will play DVDs with any region code using the Microsoft DVD Player software and the technique I describe herein, but will only play discs with its native region code when its own DVD Player application is employed. Doubtless one could patch that program as well, but the instructions would be specific to a single manufacturer and would be useless if you have different player software.)

Note that in order to use the Microsoft (or any other) DVD Player, you may need to reduce the screen resolution to free up enough display memory to permit creation of the "video overlay plane" on which the images from the DVD appear. My computer's STB nVidia ZX display card with 8 Mb of graphics memory permits it to display up to 16001200 pixels in 32 bit per pixel True Colour mode, yet if the Microsoft DVD Player is launched with screen resolution set above 800600 pixels, it fails with the following error.

DVD Display Memory Warning Dialogue

This is, of course, one of Microsoft's signature "kitchen sink" error messages in which, true to form, the actual source of the problem (which I've highlighted in green) is mentioned only after several confusing misdirections. If you encounter this error, you'll have to try setting your screen to successively lower resolutions until the DVD player starts successfully. And there's one more knife in the back to contend with...Windows 98 permits you to change the screen resolution on the fly from the Control Panel/Display/Settings page, but often a change in display size doesn't propagate to the DVD decoder until you actually reboot the computer. On my computer, for example, if I change the screen resolution to 800600 pixels then start DVD Player without rebooting, the video window appears on the screen but shows only a purple background with random white flashes; after a reboot it works OK.

The Region Reset Kludge

If your DVD decoder card is physically capable of playing discs with any region code, Microsoft's DVD Player could deliver the best value to the customer by playing discs regardless of their region codes--but maximising customer value is not a high priority at Microsoft. Instead, to avoid having to produce versions of Windows locked to various DVD regions (which would increase Microsoft's costs and reduce profits), Windows 98 is shipped with a DVD Player configured for Region 1 DVDs by default. As long as you play only Region 1 (U.S./Canada) discs, you're never aware of the setting. But if you attempt to play a disc coded for a region other than 1, the following dialogue appears:

Change DVD Region Code Dialogue

which invites you to change the region code, in this case to Region 2 for a disc purchased in Europe. Note the "WARNING", which I've again highlighted in green, obviously included at the behest of Gates' media mogul cronies (sorry, "content partners") to whom he peddles your screen space with his "active channels". If you see this dialogue, do not click OK before reading and following the instructions below. If you do innocently click OK, your disc (in this case Region 2) will play, but if you subsequently attempt to play a disc with a region code other than 2 (for example, a Region 1 disc ordered from the U.S.), you'll see the same dialogue, but this time with more of an attitude problem. When you try to change the region code back to 1, the following "Region Warning" pops up in your face.

Region Change Warning Dialogue

If you blithely go on changing region codes, your "chances to change the region" will count down to zero, at which point you're S.O.L.--Stuck On the Last region code you selected, unable to make further changes. Well, you could reformat your hard drive and re-install Windows from scratch, but that's a tad much in order to be granted another four region code changes. Let's look for a better way.

Rooting in the Registry

Folks with years of experience with Windows know that whenever one encounters something foul and corrupt, the first place to look is the Registry, so let's hook up the sewage pump and sieve and see what we may find in that nexus of incompetent, user-hostile design.

First of all, it is absolutely essential before attempting anything involving the registry that you make a manual backup of the registry and have a floppy at hand from which you can boot MS-DOS and repair the system in case of disaster. I'm not going you give you instructions for this--if you aren't sufficiently comfortable with Windows system administration to back up and restore the registry blindfolded, in a snowstorm, on three hours sleep, with one hand tied behind your back and a platoon of Bill Gates' robot purple dinosaurs lobbing hand grenades in your direction, you shouldn't remotely contemplate fooling around with matters such as these.

Registry backup in hand, the first step is to use the Registry Editor (regedit) to export the registry as an ASCII file, before changing the DVD region code. Save this file as regback1.reg. Now launch DVD Player, insert a disc with the region code you wish to play, change the "New Player Region" in the "DVD Region Settings" dialogue to that of the disc, then click OK to change the player region. (Since this is the first time you've changed the region, the "Region Warning" box shouldn't pop up.) Verify that your DVD now plays properly with the changed player region.

Next, quit DVD Player and use regedit to make a second export of the registry into file regback2.reg. Now let's compare these two registry dumps to see if anything interesting pops out. (I used diff on Linux to compare the before and after registries, but any equivalent file compare tool will do the job. If you have a recent release of Monkey C, you'll find it includes a tacky "WinDiff" utility which, albeit with vintage Microsoft opacity and lack of documentation, will get the job done.) Since the Windows Registry is a seething, constantly-changing cruft-cauldron, comparing any two registries will reveal numerous changes in a variety of items, but one intriguing difference pops right out. In the pre-region-change registry, we had:


but following the change (to Region 2) in this case, we find this key changed to:


Since "Wow, let's hide the region code in an obscurely named registry item" is about the level of sophistication in computer security one has come to expect from the Redmond Rugrats, this is a promising avenue to explore. So, (clutching our original registry backup like the security blanket it is), launch regedit once again and navigate to the key in question:

Registry item after Region 2 selected

noting, upon arrival, that it still bears the value in the export made after the change to Region 2. Now click on the pellucidly self-documenting "v#`4" item and enter the pre-region-code change value: 1a 1f 40 34. (Since the last two bytes didn't change, you need only modify the first two.) The moment you click the OK box in regedit's "Edit Binary Value" dialogue the value in the registry is changed, so you should now see the item reset to its original value:

DVD Region Code Registry Item

After changing the registry, launch DVD Player and confirm that it once again plays Region 1 discs and permits you to change the region code to another value without displaying the "Region Warning" shock box.

Now that you know the region code registry key and its initial value, to play Region 1 discs, simply reset the key to that value. To play discs from another region, insert the disc, change the region accordingly, and when you want to go back to Region 1 or switch to a different region, reset the key once again to the original Region 1 value. If you do this frequently, you might want to write a small program to reset the registry key so you don't have to fiddle with regedit every time.

What, No Cookbook?

I've deliberately written this document as a chronicle of how one goes about tracking down and circumventing a textbook example of Microsoft customer contempt predictably undone by their customary clueless design and couldn't-care-less implementation. I do not provide cookbook instructions or a ready-to-run utility to reset the region code because there's no guarantee Microsoft won't change the location of the code in a future release or "Service Pack" (farm kids like myself find that moniker exquisitely appropriate), or that it may not already be hidden under different names in other versions of Windows 98. By examining the registry yourself, as long as the basic scheme remains unchanged, you can circumvent such pathetic and puerile attempts at camouflage. Besides, once you've learned how to track down this kind of nastiness in the registry, you may find the skill useful for extracting other Microsoft daggers, present and future, from your virtual back.

by John Walker
Last updated: December 30th, 1998