Monday, May 17, 2010

A story

A few years ago, in the days before netbooks, I purchased one of those really expensive miniature Sony laptops. (It cost well over a thousand quid, and it turned out that both the build quality and after sales service were, in my opinion, terrible. But I digress). One of the selling points of this laptop was that it was the smallest laptop available that contained an optical drive. In order to fit the optical drive, they had to find the smallest drives possible. These were made by Matsushita.

Now, when the DVD region coding system was invented, hardware manufacturers paid lip service to it but didn't try hard to enforce it. Thus we have DVD players that can be unlocked by entering a magic code or by flashing alternate firmware. (In a lot of cases, the source code of the firmware was oddly easy for hackers to find). In the case
of DVD drives for computers, hacked firmware is often widely available, as is software to get round the region coding. (VLC has such workarounds built into it, for instance). The only company that took the region coding seriously was Matsushita, and their DVD drives generally still cannot be unlocked. Matsushita also built the thinnest

Therefore, ultraportable laptops (including my Sony) were just about the only laptops available with DVD drives with region coding that could not be unlocked.

Now, who were the likely customers for such laptops. Well, affluent people who travel a lot, and often take their laptops from one region to another. In fact, the sorts of people who might often find themselves feeling a little lonely in foreign hotel rooms, and who might really like to go and buy a DVD in a local shop before watching it on their laptops. If they wanted to watch a movie on their laptop, they could either download the movie over the internet illegally or go and buy a pirate DVD. Pirates are always careful to remove region coding from their DVDs as they know it annoys their customers.

One can only salute the great genius of the companies who gave us this. One funny thing, though, is that when I tell people it was a Sony laptop, people say "Oh, that's because Sony owns a film studio". However, it isn't. Sony do make DVD drives, and Sony drives have region coding that is easy to disable. (Sony did not makes drives thin enough for my laptop, though, which is why they were not in this instance using their own drives). The hardliners are Matsushita, who did at one point own Universal Studios, but who sold it in 1995. Go figure.

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