Can someone explain DVD regions when it comes to bare drives?

Yes. All my CDs and half of my Vinyls are FLAC now, but I’d rather not bother with DVDs that I might just watch once.

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OK. Just to close the loop here. The region code was a red herring. The cause was simple: libdvdcss. The Good Folks at Videolan clearly state:

Unlike most similar projects, libdvdcss does not require the region of your drive to be set.

So, basically. Install your distro of choice and try playing. No go. Install VLC. If it includes libdvdcss then it will work. If not, install libdvdcss separately. Then it will work.

The error you might see is:

Error getting next block: Error reading NAV packet.

In my case the DVD would play the first bit, ie the language selection and copyright message, presumably because they were not encrypted, but died after that.

I’ve always been of the impression that the blocking occurs at hardware level (that is, the drive itself will refuse to read data encoded for a different region than the one it’s set to) and at least in times past that’s always how it’s seemed to be.

TBH, I haven’t tried a non-native region’d DVD in my system while running Linux. It could have been an OS-level thing that just wouldn’t let you access it.

Yes. Mine as well, but DVD-drives come with no region set in intially and apparently can libdvdcss read encrypted DVDs on such a drive. No need to set region.