Subject: Re: Another Tuscany question, sort of
Jim asked: "Do American CDs and DVDs play on the same standard as European versions? I was thinking of taking some along with me on our trip to Tuscany this month."

CDs are completely interchangeable, so can be played anywhere.

Not so with DVDs. While the basic technology is the same, there are two things that can interfere with interoperability. First, commercially recorded DVDs incorporate a "region code", indicating their market area (region 1 is North American, region 2 is Europe, etc.). A DVD player also has a region code, and will not play DVDs from other regions, so a typical player in Tuscany will reject a DVD purchased in the States.

Why is this done? Simply to allow the sellers of DVDs to establish different prices in different parts of the world, and prevent informed purchasers from simply ordering their DVDs from a less expensive supply country.

It is possible to buy DVD players that are "region free" (i.e., do not have regional encoding). These can easily be found on eBay, for example. It is also possible to disable the regional encoding in a lot of (but by no means all) regular off-the-shelf players; there are several Web sites that maintain lists of the "secret" codes necessary to do this. None of this is illegal, though it's discouraged by the sellers of DVDs (but surreptitiously encouraged by the sellers of DVD players). And none of this applies to DVDs that you have burned yourself at home; they do not have region codes (unless you went to a lot of trouble to include them!).

The second issue is TV line format. America uses the NTSC standard, while Europe uses the PAL standard (which is technically much superior, thus explaining why TV looks so much better in Europe). PAL has more lines on the screen than NTSC, so unless some conversion is done, a PAL DVD will not display properly on an NTSC television set.

The reverse is not true; you can generally play NTSC recordings on European PAL sets.

Bottom line: region coding will probably prevent you from viewing American commercial DVDs in Europe (and vice versa), but the PAL/NTSC issue will likely only affect you in the opposite direction.

Caveat: to keep it understandable (maybe), I have simplified the above explanation slightly.

Doug (San Francisco)