Editor’s Note: Welcome to Film Obsessive’s new feature film series, “Off the Shelf.” Every Saturday, our editors share the joys of physical media, from reviews of new 4K and Blu-ray releases to thoughts on the precious media they’ve come to collect and cherish over the years.
Should you go for a regionless region? In the world of physical collecting, this is a huge question that all of us collectors need to answer. If you’re new to collecting, this might be the first time you’ve seen this question; also, if you are new, welcome! You are going to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. The world of physical media collection can be your best friend and your worst enemy.
Now, I know I don’t sell physical media collections very well, but I want to be honest about the world. As with any hobby, there is a cost. Depending on what you collect, it can add up quickly. What constitutes a collection of physical media is different for everyone. Some people collect rare VHS tapes, others have a complete collection of SteelBooks, while others collect limited editions. The world is big, but your collection belongs to you. No one can tell you what you should and shouldn’t add to your collection. That’s the beauty of it.
This will not be an article about the difference between boutique labels, limited editions versus standard editions, bundles, and single releases. That’s a subject for another time. Instead, I’d like to talk about disk regions and the advantages (and disadvantages) of having no region.
Since the advent of DVD, region coding has been at the forefront of home video releases. Just because you own a disc doesn’t mean it will work on a player. In all retail stores in North America, DVDs sold are Region 1 coded. The disc will play in DVD players coded for the United States and Canada. If you buy a disc on eBay, for example, and the disc is from a European manufacturer, it may not play on your US player.
The same is true with Blu-ray. Around the world, there are three established regions where a Blu-ray disc can be played, identified as A, B, and C. Each box containing the disc has an identifier to help where the disc will work. Interestingly, 4K discs (mostly) are region-free and playable on all 4K players. Go figure.
Anyway, I’m not here to give you a crash course in the intricacies of region coding; Let’s talk about the topic at hand: regionless players.
By now, you probably understand that a region-free player allows you to access all discs around the world. Big problem, one might think. “What’s the difference if I get a record from North America or import it from Europe?” you might ask. To be honest, a lot.
Nothing in the film itself will be different: the 4K limited edition of battle royale released by Arrow Video in the UK is identical to the standard edition. What’s different with the limited edition is that you get both versions of Battle Royal II on Blu-ray only. As this is a UK-only release, if you live in North America with a US player, both discs on the battle royale the following is of no use to you. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll get access to 4K discs of the original movie, but the limited edition half will collect dust without a region-free player. Arrow Video finally released a standard edition of battle royaleonly including 4K discs, which would be worth importing if you’re not region-free, as they should play on a North American player.
When it comes to imports, it’s not always the records that make the difference. The difference between the battle royale limited and standard editions is huge. The standard edition contains only the two cuts of the original film – the limited edition contains these cuts, as well as the two previously mentioned versions of Battle Royal II, PLUS CD soundtrack for battle royale. The limited edition also includes a book, assets, poster, and more. The standard edition doesn’t come with all those bells and whistles.
If you are a fanatic of battle royale, you might want to have this limited edition on your shelf. If you’re not region-free, however, there’s no point in getting the limited edition, because you won’t be able to play Battle Royal II. And I know Battle Royal II is looked down upon by most fans, but if you’re a finalist, this would be the set for you…if you’re region-free.
the battle royale bundle that Arrow Video offers isn’t the only case where one territory gets a stellar package while another region doesn’t. There are hundreds of versions scattered across regions that offer different extras and packaging, among other things. There are many options for a single version, you have to find the one that suits you.
On to the bad news: with more options comes the potential for more expense. In this current climate, prices are on the rise everywhere. And it’s no different when it comes to shipping. If you are in North America, there are distributors who import titles from other parts of the world; as shipping prices increase, the prices of publications on physical media also increase. This limited edition of battle royale? It costs a pretty penny no matter how you got it. Each additional feature costs money. The limited edition packaging that contains the extra goodies has increased the prices exponentially. If you go for a regionless region, it’s easier to fall into financial peril with no barriers between versions and their regions.
I can tell you it happened to me. Before going region-free, I never looked at releases for European or Asian markets. I couldn’t play them in my North American player, so there was a safety net for me and my expenses. With no barriers in place after leaving the area, I found myself shopping and spending more than I would have. Over time, I found myself scouring distributors for the latest releases. Sometimes I buy movies that I haven’t heard of because of the good sound of the movie or an abundant offer of bonuses or and it’s the worst because it’s a limited edition.
Another downside to region-free is that labels re-release titles as if they were handing out candy. In your quest for movies to add to your collection, you might find an OOP (Out Of Print) title that you can import from Europe. Now that you have it, all is well in the world. Then a label gets the rights and releases that movie in the United States at half of what you paid, with more features and a better transfer. It may sound like a far-fetched scenario, but it happens. And it happens more than you think. So, with a region-free player, you need to be on the lookout for what you have and what’s coming soon. Sometimes too many options can be a bad thing. And with the number of titles in the world, it’s easy to lose more money than expected, and labels and rights holders know it.
Labels prey on people like me. They give me something I didn’t know I wanted, then they scared me that I was missing out. This article is not about my weaknesses or my spending habits. We can discuss FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in a separate article.
So, should you go for region-free? This is a question that only you can answer. Even with my spending shortcomings, I’m glad I left region-free. I have exceptional releases in my collection that I wouldn’t have with a North American player. Lately I’ve been working to reduce my expenses with mixed results. Even with my compulsive spending habits, being region-free has allowed me to open up to see how the rest of the world handles physical press releases. And to that end, I’m happy to have become region-free.