MST3K: The Region Encoding

21st May 2008 – 7.09 am

My DVD player was getting lazy. Whenever I asked it to wake up and play a disc it would often hit the snooze alarm and sleep a bit longer. Sometimes it would hit the snooze alarm many times, not waking up for ages. It was quite frustrating. The player has a bizarrely long boot-up cycle, which can take around fifteen seconds for the whole self-check cycle to complete. When it fails the self-check it resets for a few seconds before starting the whole cycle again. Something is a little awry with the player as it can fail this self-check many times, and I have found myself waiting for half-an-hour or more on occasion before the player powers-up.

I think fifteen seconds for a consumer device to power-on is excessive, and I have worked around that by hitting the power and then getting a drink or snack, but it is still inconvenient. In its half-broken state I cannot rely on the player at all, so have to hit the power button to turn it on as soon as I think of wanting to watch a DVD and then hope that it powers-on successfully before the heat death of the universe, and I bide my time with a quick run through the Arcatraz. The whole affair is compounded by the player unfathomably running through the self check whenever a new disc is inserted, meaning that if I am changing discs from cold I have to wait for the player to start up and eject the current disc before hoping it doesn't then fail after inserting the new disc, or I have another random wait.

Yes, I should get it repaired. In these disposable times I'm not sure how many places there are that would be able to repair electronics, but I'm sure it's possible. I really ought to look in to it. However, one of my friends became Mr Awesome and offered to lend me his old player, with it not being used any more. It has the connections I use and is multi-region, being only a slightly different model from mine. A most gracious offer, and I accepted. It's brilliant! Sure, the fifteen second power-on time is still silly, but it definitely beats a random power-on time of anywhere between fifteen seconds and a year. I no longer have to plan watching a DVD well in advance of watching it.

The copy of MST3K: The Movie I ordered turned up and I was in the right mood to watch some silliness. With my new DVD player I made the audacious move of starting to cook some toast and make a coffee whilst I powered-on the player. I would have had to wait until the DVD was in the machine and running before thinking about starting toast with my old player, but this was the new player and I was once again in charge of the technology. Or so I thought.

'NO PLAY' was shown on the display when I came back from the kitchen, having flipped my toast under the grill. That's odd, I was sure the new player was multi-region. I tried a different disc, the first series of Robot Chicken, and that too would not play. My toast was browning and I wanted something to watch, what to do? For some reason I still have my first DVD player under my bed, which I know is multi-region. I made room under the TV, pushing various Nintendo game boxes out of the way, rummaged under the bed and found the Xbox-sized monster of a machine that was a marvel back in 1999, plucked a scart cable from my draw of miscellany, and hooked everything up. My toast was cooked and sitting waiting for butter by this point.

I tried the disc in my old player, which, being old-school, powered-on immediately and responded straight away when I pressed the eject button, but it too would not play the disc, complaining that I was not allowed to play a disc from that region. I consider region encoding to be rather a nonsense, hence having multi-region players and discs from several regions, but that's for a different time. Right now, I wanted to play my MST3K film. I had only one more option available. I unhooked my ancient DVD player, thrust it back under my bed, and connected my old and unreliable DVD player to the TV in its place. I wasn't about to displace the new and reliable player I had for the sake of a disc or two that it couldn't play, the random power-on time wasn't worth it. I would have to do without component video and digital audio, I didn't think MST3K would suffer from missing it, relying on RGB scart instead. I was lucky, and the old player booted relatively quickly, and again after inserting the disc. Moreover, it played the disc without complaint.

I tried the new player with an older region 1 disc I had lying around conveniently, a disc from Homicide: Life on the Street, and it played it fine. It was multi-region as I had thought. The MST3K and Robot Chicken discs are probably Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE) discs. It's something of a pain, but at least I can play the discs. I hope I retain this ability in the future, or find some way to gain access to the data.

With the excitement over and my toast cold but still crunchy, I make my coffee and sit down to enjoy the MST3K film in all its high production value glory, and it is good entertainment. I had a bit of additional entertainment too. I mentioned that the DVD player my friend kindly lent me is almost the same model as my player, and this means that the two have almost identical remote controllers. Asking one machine to do something also meant the other machine did the same thing, despite them being separated somewhat. This wasn't a problem, just amusing when trying to find an angle that allowed me to communicate only with the one I was using, which I failed to achieve. I've since left my old player unplugged to prevent it from trying to respond when I am using the new player, as the old player is only needed on rare occasions.

  1. 2 Responses to “MST3K: The Region Encoding”

  2. We have 3 DVD players hooked up: one multi-region, one recorder, and a "regular" one that can only play U.S. disks. That one is optional, but it's so fast at loading and playing disks that I hate to get rid of it.

    By Stacia on May 22, 2008

  3. It's a bit silly that we need special hardware to watch discs from different regions, but at least it's available to us.

    I know what you mean about the fast-loading player. My first machine has a hard power switch, and the eject button reacts immediately to my touch, unlike all the soft switches in modern hardware. I don't even see what functionality or features have been added to account for the extra time the software takes to work out it's okay for me to eject a disc. It doesn't seem like we've made progress here.

    By pjharvey on May 23, 2008

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