Monday, June 23, 2008
Separated at Birth
The first DVD player my husband and I ever purchased was a Pioneer. We bought it from the U.S. through some sort of grey market distributor and had to manually reset the region code through a "secret" sequence of buttons every time we wanted to swap between Region 1 (U.S.) and Region 2 (Japan) discs. The player cost somewhere in the ballpark of $400 and lasted about 5 years, though it sputtered long and hard through the last one. It frequently spat discs back out at us as if it were coughing and wheezing its dying breaths.
By the time that player went belly up, things in the DVD player market had changed. Players were cheaper and makers didn't have to go to such great lengths to hide their multi-region functionality. My husband and I didn't want to trek to Akihabara ("Tokyo's Electric Town") to track down a new player, especially since we'd heard some needed little tweaks to become "all region" players. The idea of removing the back from a new player and messing about (as well as violating the warranty) wasn't appealing, nor was having to ask clerks if they carried grey market machines. The truth is that the clerks in Akihabara shops seem to come in two flavors and you can't trust what you are told anyway. There are people who know everything and can tell you anything and people who are clueless and make a big show of investigating your question. However, they really just trot off to a boss who also is clueless and tell you "no" because it's too much hassle to find out the truth. They have all the appearance of being helpful and competent but actually are just putting on a well-meaning act to fulfill their role as a dutiful worker. Since neither flavor of clerk is clearly marked for your convenience, it was just easier to buy a cheap Chinese-made machine from the FBC (Foreign Buyer's Club).
This player was only ¥8,000 and guaranteed to just play any damn disc from anywhere in the world out of the box and it was much smaller than our Pioneer player. However, that player went belly up recently after just two and a half years of use. For the price though, it was equivalent value for money to the Pioneer player...and it didn't take nearly as long to die, so it was less frustrating at the end. Though I'm not happy with the product life cycle issues (waste), I do hope to recycle the player by handing it off to the trucks that patrol the neighborhood asking for dead electronics items. They strip them or fix them so the components aren't completely wasted.
Last week we found that a similar player was still available from the FBC (at a slightly lower price, no less) but this one was the "Felicis" brand instead of "Fuze". However, it is clearly the same player as it has almost the same design, the documentation was very similar, and the circular display is absolutely identical in how if functions. Also, the box now has a Region 2 code symbol on it and says in Japanese that it is meant to play that region's discs. I'm guessing that the company name and packaging were modified to play down the fact that this player is designed to circumvent all of the (ridiculous) coding meant to stop people from buying discs at a much lower price from other countries.
However, the player is the same as before. You pop in whatever disc and it just works. I've heard recently that there's a move to stop region-free players. I can imagine this is motivated mainly by corporate pressure to keep markets under the thumb of particular companies and to allow them to sell their massively overpriced discs in countries like Japan. I have to wonder if players like the one we're buying will slip in under the radar as it can be claimed that they are meant to play only one region (and are labeled as such), but just so happen to play other discs as well. One can only hope it stays this way.