New US films, cheap, on your PC

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A GROWING number of Britons have spotted a simple way to circumvent Hollywood's restrictive release schedules: they use the Internet to buy films, which will not be released here for months, on digital video discs (DVDs) designed only for US players and instead use their computers to watch them.

Films which have only just appeared in the UK, such as Pleasantville and Mighty Joe Young, or still unreleased, such as A Perfect Murder or Blade, can be bought from American online stores at prices comparable to the UK.

Although the discs would not play in standard DVD players on sale in shops in the UK, they can be played on the DVD-Rom drives that most new computers are equipped with. Those computers, in turn, have outputs which can deliver TV-quality signals.

By using their computers to play American DVDs, Britons can effectively skirt Hollywood release schedules, where films only reach the UK months after they have appeared in the US.

DVD discs are the same size as compact discs, but more densely packed with data, so that they can hold an entire feature film and extra content such as trailers, subtitles and different languages or film angles.

When DVD was first mooted, Hollywood's film studios, fearing that their cashflow would be hit if everybody could watch a film on disc, imposed a system dividing the world into three "regions" - broadly North America, Europe and Asia - in which DVDs from one region would not play on players from another. However, DVD-Rom drives in computers are able to read any DVD disc.

British users can also benefit from the cheaper prices available over the net - equivalent to around pounds 11 per disc. That compares with prices of up to pounds 15 in the shops for DVDs of films which are not even new.