Month: October 2010

When my sisters gave me a much desired Wii and Wii Fit module for my sixtieth birthday, I was delighted at their generosity and thoughtfulness.  Never having been a video game fan, I was surprised to see how much fun these electronic diversions can be.  Of course it is easy for me to justify owning a Wii because I mostly use it for fitness training. 

But I discovered that I needed one more thing to really enjoy my new adventure into electronic fitness and games.  Frankly, I wasn’t enjoying my Wii set up at my house as much as I was at theirs.  Why?  Well, they each have these huge flatscreen TV while I was making do with a prehistoric 26 inch tube set!  My husband and I decided that we’d get a new TV since we were already enjoying the fitness programs and the games on my new Wii.   It had been so long since we’d bought a television that we did not even know the right questions to ask at first. 

We also have the added factor of being U.S. expats in Europe, with an international assortment of DVDs, so we wanted to make sure that a purchase of this magnitude would serve us equally well here as well as when we returned home.  So here is how our shopping adventure developed.
Should We Buy a Plasma TV or an LCD TV?
That seemed to be the first question sales folks ask.  Given that we were less than up-to-date on TV technology, we did a little research and discovered that really there are advantages and disadvantages to each.  This sums up the comparisons we found:

Plasma TVs.  These have better contrast, better blacks and color depth, better motion tracking, and more models to choose from if you want a really large screen and if price is not a major factor.   They are not recommended for higher altitudes.  Since we live just barely above sea level, that was of no concern to us.   They can be heavier, which is a consideration if wall mounting.
LCD TVs.  These consume less energy and thus, not surprisingly, put out less heat.  They also weigh less and hold up better when shipped.  Screen glare and burn in are less likely but burn out of individual pixels more likely.  They can have impressive enough resolution at more reasonable prices even at screens over 36 inches. 
What Other Factors Should You Consider?

Multi-system TVs.  We quickly discovered that it is easy to find “multi-system” sets that will accommodate the variety of DVDs. 

Blu-ray and HD-DVD compatibility.  If you are planning to get a Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD, this may be the best choice cost-wise since you can get a 1080 pixel resolution in a 37 to 42 inch set for less than you’d pay for a similar plasma TV.  If you want a much larger screen, the plasmas can be more economical.

Can It Be Too Big?  Be sure to plan out where you plan to put your wonderful new flat-screen television.  The size should be proportional to the room you will be in.  It’s hard to enjoy a 72-inch screen if you cannot move your sofa or chair back more than six or seven feet!  These TVs come with manuals that suggest appropriate home theater configurations. 

You should definitely check out actual models if you can before making your decision.  We did, and we selected a 37” Hitachi LCD Multi-system TV and then ordered it over the internet along with a new region-free DVD player.  Once we got everything in to place, we were surprised at what a fabulous difference it makes!  Not only do we enjoy our Wii more, but we enjoy movies and DVDs a lot more as well.  So here’s to happy viewing!


 Did you know that DVDs have something called a Region Lock?  This restriction keeps you from playing DVDs marked for one particular region on a DVD player or drive that is marked for another region.  As long as you stay put, don’t travel, don’t buy or accept foreign DVDs, you’ll never need to concern yourself with this.  If you are concerned, you will want to know about region code free DVD players.

If you’ve ever had the disappointing experience of putting a foreign movie DVD in your US machine or a new US movie in a foreign machine, and then getting a blank screen, you have already run into the problem.  That’s because the DVD drives, including those in laptops and game consoles as well as the stand-alone players, are usually rigged by manufacturers.

Let the Consumer Beware

Unbeknownst to most consumers, most DVD drives come with a region-blocking chip, or flag, that is built right into the machine. Unless you have a region code free player, your machine’s drive flag must match the disc flag. This is an impediment to not only to travelers, but also to immigrants who want to watch films from their homeland, to foreign film buffs, and even to students of foreign languages, as one Washington Post writer noted. 

This is done to allow those who produce those discs (e.g., film companies) to have different release dates across the globe, and more importantly, to raise the price wherever the market lets them, which some consider price discrimination.  Movie producers are especially anxious to keep movie DVDs to reaching foreign ports before the theater version has run its course.  They don’t want you taking the US DVD back to Buenos Aires with you, for example.  Accordingly, in the current state of affairs, the world has been divided into these separate consumer regions by flag number.  The logic behind these divisions totally escapes me!  Apparently it has more to do with sales areas than any kind of cultural, linguistic, or geographic sense!  

Here they are:

1. US & its territories, Canada, Bermuda 
2. Europe (minus Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland
3. Southeast Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau
4. Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Oceana (As if hemisphere matters more than language?)
5. Afghanistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Africa (minus those mentioned elsewhere), Central & South Asia, Mongolia, North Korea
6. China, Hong Kong
7. Reserved for future use
8. International venues (planes, cruises)
How To Get Past the Region Block on DVD Players

Only “region code free” DVD players, i.e., those with NO flag (sometimes called region “0” players).  There are no region-free discs, by the way.  As the world gets flatter, I’d personally like to see this aggravating technological bump excised.  Some call it an infringement of international commerce; others see it as an opportunity for hacking.  If you read techno blogs, you’ll discover that some really smart people have invented software to circumvent the regional blocking (often for a fee) that enables the user to unlock the regional control by entering an unlock code via the remote control.  Beware:  This kind of hacking voids your machine’s warranty.

The best current solution to this problem is simple:  Look for a “multi-region or region code free DVD player” from any number of manufacturers, including Panasonic, Phillips, Pioneer, and Toshiba.  It’s legal.  Just look for the one that fits your needs and budget and start enjoying hassle-free DVD watching.  So while you are at it, why not check out the new screens too?  The Multisystem LCD TV’s are PAL, SECAM, NTSC worldwide compatible and would make a great complement to your new DVD player!