The Regional Playback Control (RPC) is a system used by DVD manufacturers to limit the use of DVDs to a specific, limited geographic region(s). RPC is implemented on most commercial DVDs and DVD players.
The DVD Copy Control Association is responsible for the RPC. There are six main regions:
- Region 1: North America.
- Region 2: Europe, Japan, South Africa, Middle East (including Egypt), Greenland.
- Region 3: South Korea; Taiwan; Hong Kong, China; the Philippines; parts of Southeast Asia.
- Region 4: Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Latin America (including Mexico), Caribbean.
- Region 5: Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Africa, North Korea, Mongolia.
- Region 6: China.
The regional coding system was put into place so that movie studios can control when and where DVDs are distributed so as not to interfere with schedules for sequential release of movies, which includes theatrical runs, Pay TV broadcast, video rental release, retail video release, and free-to-air television broadcast.
As a result of the system, DVDs authorized for one region will only play on players that are also authorized for that region. So, for example, a Region 1 DVD will play only on a Region 1 player. If the consumer attempts to play a Region 1 DVD on a Region 2 player, the player will display a message that the "DVD is not readable in this zone" or simply reject it.
In practical terms the coding system means that consumers who purchase DVDs while travelling abroad in another "region" will not be able to play the discs on their DVD players when they return home. Conversely, consumers bringing their home DVD collection with them when they travel to another region will not be able to watch those discs on a player purchased in the foreign country.
For those consumers who live in Europe, Australia, and Asia, there is a market for code-free (and multi-region) DVD players, which are modified versions of stock DVD players in which the region coding function has been disabled. For the owners of these players, DVDs can be purchased (and played) from any region. However, as a reaction to the popularity of code-free DVD players, another layer of coding on Region 1 DVDs has been implemented: RCE (Regional Coding Enhancement). RCE prevents selected Region 1 DVDs from playing even on code-free DVD players.
Somewhat less restrictive regional coding specifications are permitted for DVD players on computers. When a computer manufacturer gets a DVD-decoding license from the DVD Copy Control Association, it is allowed to make players that can change regions up to five times. After this limit, the region setting on the DVD player can only be changed again if the computer manufacturer resets the drive. For consumers who travel regularly and purchase DVDs in other regions, this inability to play them on personal laptops can be an unexpected constraint.