DVD player filters out nudity, violence
By Josh Wilcox
(CNN) -- The world's biggest retailer is offering a DVD player that slices out potentially offensive content from movies, such as nudity, violence and foul language.
The device, available at Wal-Mart for about $70, merges video-editing technology developed by ClearPlay with an RCA brand DVD player.
The DVD player works by cutting scenes or muting parts of the movie, according to guidelines from ClearPlay's staff of editors, said ClearPlay CEO Bill Aho.
"This gives you virtually unprecedented control over movies," Aho said. "You can decide what you want to see and what you don't, and the end result is something that is seamless."
Using a checklist of 14 categories, ranging from graphic violence to explicit drug use, buyers can skip over any scenes they deem inappropriate while leaving the rest of the movie intact.
With these filters, it can appear the offensively branded parts never existed.
For example, if the nudity filter is selected while watching "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," Arnold Schwarzenegger's naked body is seen squatting in a desert, but before the California governor can stand up and expose his backside -- as he does in the uncut version of the film -- the camera immediately moves to a close-up of his face.
Often the edits are imperceptible, but sometimes they can leave the viewer squinting at the TV, trying to read the silent lips of Johnny Depp as his many "hells" and "damns" are cut from "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
"This is unique technology," said Tara Dunion, a representative from the Consumer Electronics Association. "It provides a good option for people who are looking for safe viewing alternatives for their children."
But the product have received staunch criticism from many in the movie industry. "Traffic" director Steven Soderbergh and members of the Directors Guild of America filed suit against ClearPlay in 2002.
"ClearPlay software edits movies to conform to ClearPlay's vision of a movie instead of letting audiences see, and judge for themselves, what writers wrote, what actors said and what directors envisioned," a guild representative said in a statement.
Aho argues that the ClearPlay DVD player does not violate copyright laws. It provides users with the power over movies they have had for years: the ability to fast-forward or mute scenes they choose not to watch, he said.
"This is new technology," Aho said. "It's going to take a while for the industry to get comfortable with it."
Dave Arland, a representative of RCA, said that no technology gives the depth of control that the ClearPlay DVD player provides. "There have been similar features in the past, but nothing as comprehensive as ClearPlay," Arland said.
The ClearPlay DVD player comes equipped with 100 preloaded movie filters and a wide range of titles, from "As Good as It Gets" to "Zoolander." If customers want more filters, they have to purchase a membership from ClearPlay.
For $20, three years of unlimited access is granted to ClearPlay's library of "classic" movie filters, all of which are 90 days old or more. If a member wants to view movies as soon as they are available on DVD, there is a charge of $4.95 a month or $49 a year.
ClearPlay is quick to offer filters for recent movies. Aho said editors are able to edit a movie in a matter of hours.
Members can download all filters from ClearPlay's Web site and burn them onto a recordable CD that is loaded into the DVD player, where it is stored. ClearPlay also will mail CDs to users for a small fee.
But there is still an untested market for the product. The most similar technology to ClearPlay's DVD player is the v-chip, which limits television programming based on a pre-assigned rating. Studies found a small percentage of parents with televisions equipped with the technology use it at all.
Despite the uncertainty, ClearPlay plans to expand its offerings in the future.
Aho said ClearPlay will release technology next year that censors offending content from cable television, a hot topic in the wake of the Super Bowl scandal involving Janet Jackson and the Federal Communications Commission's recent crackdown on Howard Stern's radio show.
"I see this as something everyone can use," Aho said.
"Maybe you will only use it when nephews and nieces are over, or maybe you will have it on all the time. Everyone will have their own applications for it. ... I expect this to become a standard feature on DVD players in the future. Press a button and activate a filter."