Sunday, August 23, 2020

The PlayStation 3 (Fat/Slim) as a Universal Region Free Blu-ray Disc Player

Although not as popular as its predecessor, the PlayStation 3 did almost as much to bring Blu-ray discs into the mainstream as the PlayStation 2 had done for DVDs. Every system came with a disc drive and flat screen HDTVs were also affordable by the time system sales began to pick up with the Slim revision of the console.  When I picked up mine in 2010, I bought it more as a Blu-ray player than for games.  I knew that at some point the console was hacked and jailbroken, but I did not want to continually switch between official firmware updates and iffy custom firmware that could end up bricking one of the only ways I had to play high definition discs.  For many years I got by with ripping DVDs and Blu-rays and streaming content via the media server, but that tended to take up a lot of hard drive space and time when I could just simply run the discs I had legitimately purchased.  I have as many UK DVDs than US DVDs and a fair number of UK Blu-rays.  Now that the PS3 has been discontinued and the console is essentially on life support in terms of firmware updates, I finally decided to investigate what it would take to get my PS3 working as a Universal DVD and Blu-ray disc player.  It turned out to be quite a journey.

The PlayStation 3 will enforce Region Coding on DVDs and Blu-ray discs.  Region coding on DVDs was a nuisance even in the early 2000s, with USA being assigned to Region 1, Western Europe, the Middle East  and Japan to Region 2, Southeast Asia to Region 3 and Latin America and Australia to Region 4.  I don't believe Regions 5 (Russia, India and Africa) and 6 (China) were much used and Regions 7 and 8 were rarely encountered.  Region 0 and Region ALL are Region Free and can play in any player, but DVD releases from major studios and prestige releases still use Region Codes out of habit for DVDs.  A DVD can have more than one region setting, many UK discs were set to Region 2 and 4 so they could be played back in the UK or Australia.  Latin America discs typically use Region 1 and 4.  

Blu-ray Regions are much simpler, there are only three Region Codes, A, B and C.  Region A was assigned to the Americas, Japan and South East Asia, Region B to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia and Region C was assigned to Russia, India and China.  No discs of consequence use Region C, so you can easily handle Region Free Blu-ray by buying a Region A player and a Region B player.  Region Encoding on Blu-ray is not nearly as prevalent as it is on DVDs, but it is sufficiently frequent to be annoying.  

To freely change the Blu-ray region of your player, you must jailbreak it.  Fortunately these days Sony is more focused on the upcoming PS5, so it really does not care if you jailbreak the PS3.  The worst penalty you may experience is being blocked from online services, but this article assumes that you are mainly using a PS3 to play games offline and for Blu-ray playback.  Most games were not region locked on the PS3.  

How do you jailbreak the PS3?  There is a lot of information out there, much of which is unfriendly to someone new to jailbreaking.  Also, information can go out of date with these older consoles or be difficult to follow because a writer assumed too much.  However, after some time researching the issue, I found a series of guides which anyone should be able to follow.  

The guide which successfully brought me through the process of performing my initial jailbreak can be found here : https://youtu.be/Eckd06nFReY  In essence, you will need a PS3 "Fat" or a PS3 "Slim" with a model number of CECH-20xxA, CECH-20xxB, CECH-21xxA, CECH-20xxB and some CECH-25xxA and Bs.  You will need a FAT32 formatted USB stick to hold the firmware and other files needed for the jailbreak and your PS3 will need to be connected to the internet to activate the exploit which allows you to flash custom firmware to your device.  If you have a PS3 Super Slim or a PS3 Slim CECH-30xxA or B, you cannot flash custom firmware onto your console.  

By the time you are at the end of that video and have installed the custom firmware, Rebug 4.86.1 Lite and the homebrew application MultiMan, you will be able to change the Blu-ray region settings via MultiMan's Settings Menu.  

If you have a PS3 Super Slim or a PS3 Slim CECH-30xxA or B, you can still use the PS3HEN method to install hybrid firmware.  The hybrid firmware will permit the install of MultiMan and alllow you to change the Blu-ray region settings.  Follow this video for more information : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOKemRHAZ3c

Unfortunately, the ability to unlock Blu-ray Region A or B on the console set to the other region may not be all you need to do.  If your console was made for a "PAL or SECAM Territory", then congratulations, you are done with the jailbreaking.  If, on the other hand, your PS3 was released in an NTSC country like the USA, Canada, Japan or South Korea and the much of Latin and South America, then you have a pair of steps to perform before your device will play back 50i content.  Regardless of Blu-ray region, PS3s released in an NTSC region will refuse to play PAL DVDs, giving an error message like "Video in the PAL broadcast standard is not supported".  It does not matter if the disc is using Region 0, 2 or 4, any PAL content will result in the PS3 giving the error.  The PS3 will also fail to load Blu-rays using 50i content no matter what letter which the Region Code is set.  (With DVDs and Blu-rays there is no official 25p standard, but if each field corresponds to one-half of a film frame it will be an effective 25p because both fields originate in the same point in time.  With true interlaced 50i video, each field captures an image 1/50th of a second after the last).

To get around this issue, you must change the console's region, which requires you to install a Full Rebug custom firmware followed by a Debug Rebug custom firmware.  If you cannot install a full custom firmware (essentially limited to the PS3HEN method, then this next part will not work for you.)  Unfortunately the latest version of Full Rebug is 4.84.2, about two firmware revisions behind the latest official Sony firmware of 4.86.  Here is the video explaining how to get to 4.84.2 DEX : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmpexUf9eK0  When you've finished, you will see a new menu item under System Settings called Debug Settings.  Only when your console is switched to the DEX mode will you see the Region Setting option.  (CEX is a designation for consumer consoles, DEX is for developer consoles).  I would suggest setting it to Europe over U.K. because some discs will censor material if they think they are being played back in a U.K. player which they would not if played back in a player sold in France or Germany.  The Region Setting will "stick" with custom firmware updates, so you can go back up to Rebug 4.86.1 Lite if you are confident you will not need to change the Debug Settings again.  However, there are other interesting features with Debug Developer consoles, like the ability to turn of HDCP (theoretical, the function always stays On for me), which prevents easy video capture of PS3 games.  Consoles released outside of NTSC regions have no issue playing 60i, 24p or 23.976p content.

By the end of this process you should be able to play Blu-ray discs from any region as well as PAL DVDs.  Unfortunately this is not a true universal solution because a jailbroken PS3 using these methods still enforces DVD region codes.  MultiMan has an entry in its settings to change the DVD Region Code but it does not work.  webMAN MOD, another homebrew software which allows you to set Blu-Ray and DVD Regions, also will not work.  If you disable COBRA Mode, you will lose the ability to change Blu-ray Region Codes, so I would advise against it.  Renable it in the Rebug Toolbox.  I believe that the DVD Region Free option worked at some point for some people with certain custom firmware revisions but became broken and no one cared enough to fix it.  So at the end of the day you are left with a nearly-Universal Region Free disc player.  I am sure there is some irony when it is easier to get around Blu-ray Region Codes than DVD Region Codes. 

3 comments:

  1. Long gone are those days were it was a matter of punching some button sequence on the remote control in order to access a secret menu and make the DVD player region 0.

    In today-s global economy it makes zero sense to keep enforcing regional restrictions. Oh well, it is fun to keep doing these workarounds.

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  2. Thanks I was watching a US DVD boxset last year on my EU console thanks to multiman then I went to continue watching today and nothing I did could get the discs to play. A US Blu-ray boxset I have works fine still.

    I didn't update the console or anything so I don't really understand why it would work then not but I guess that's the case now.

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  3. Thank you for this great guide! I can now import Criterion Blu-rays from the USA with all the confidence that it will play!

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