When DVDs first came out, one of the benefits of the digital format was that it may be possible to have multiple versions of the same movie on one disk. This would have allowed studios to have movies with multiple ratings on the same disk also. One of the reasons for this would be to provide a more family friendly version of some movies. Since this has not happened, some other companies have taken it upon themselves to make it possible to filter your own DVDs.
- You choose the level of censorship
- Works With Over 1000 Movie Titles!
- Progressive Scan
- DVD, CD-R/RW, SVCD, mp3, WMA
- Digital Audio Output
- Unified TV/DVD/VCR Remote Control
The only way you can get ClearPlay is built into DVD players. Right now the only company that has built this into their DVD players is RCA. Since the DVD player and the ClearPlay software are built together I will review them together.
The ClearPlay DVD player is unique in many ways. First, as far as I can find, this is the only method available for automatically skipping scenes and language that you might find offensive. Second, the method that ClearPlay uses to filter content is only available if you have a filter for your movie loaded into the DVD player. Third, the software is completely customizable and allows you to decide the level of censorship for each of your movies.
If you don’t have the filter for the movie you don’t have to worry about the movie not playing. You can play any movie in the DVD player, but if you have the filter it gives you the option of playing the movie filtered. Another nice feature on this DVD player is that you can block out certain ratings that you don’t want played without a filter. For example if you have a rated PG-13 movie, but you don’t want the kids watching it without the filter, you can set the setting and a password and you are good to go.
Because the filters are set to skip specific scenes it needs to be calibrated to a specific movie. So you not only have to make sure you get the right filter for the movie, but you must also make sure it matches the version of movie you have. For example the pictures below show the 3 filters for Spiderman 2. The first one is for the Full Screen version, the second one if for the 16×9 anamorphic version and the third one is for the 16×9 special edition version.
There are several options for getting filters. The DVD player normally comes with 500 or more filters. You can then purchase a yearly subscription which allows you to get every filter they make during that year. This will set you back a tidy $79. If you don’t think you need that many filters you can go for the $7.95 a month plan or if you need even less filters you can buy them for $2.95 a filter. If you are not one for new movies and you are only looking to supplement your already existing DVD collection then you can subscribe to the classic plan for $40 a year. This plan lets you have any filter that is older than 90 days.
When you choose which plan you want you can decide to download the filter or have it delivered in the mail on a CD. Either way it needs to be on a CD before you can load it in the DVD player. When you place the CD that has the filters in the DVD player you are presented with a menu that lets you add and delete filters. This is a really tedious task, especially if you have a lot of movies. Each DVD player can hold up to 300 filters at a time. Which means if you have a really large DVD collection you may need to swap out filters when you get new movies.
A lot of parents may be interested in this DVD player because they think it will clean up all their movies and make them suitable for their children. Be warned you should not rely on the ClearPlay filtering to make every movie suitable for children. On the ClearPlay website there is a disclaimer. It reads “Even with filtering turned on, all movies are not appropriate for all audiences.” Sorry parents this is not a blank check to let you kids watch whatever they want, you still have to pay attention to what movies your children watch.
The DVD player packs several nice features as well. Progressive Scan output will help make sure you get the best quality video, Digital Audio out will allow this DVD play to deliver exceptional sound and the ability to play back DVD, CD-R/RW, SVCD, mp3 and WMA means that most movie formats will work just fine in this player.
On the outside this DVD player looks just like every other. It is very plain with a few buttons. On the back you have the standard outputs for video and audio. There are two audio outputs and three video outputs. The audio outputs consist of one digital audio output and one set of analog audio outputs. For video you can choose S-Video, a single composite video output or a set of YPrPb (Component) video outputs. The only downside to the outside of the DVD player is that the power cord is not removable.
All the other design aspects are inside the DVD player. The menu system design is laid out reasonably well; however, there are so many options you can choose from, that you can quickly become overwhelmed.
When you first turn on the DVD player you will probably want to install some filters. I highly recommend that you put the CD of filters in your computer first and print off a list of filters. This will save you a lot of time searching the disk to see if it has a filter for your movie. Once you know the disk has the filter you want, then you put it into the DVD player. You will be given an alphabetical list of filters that you need to navigate through to find yours. Once you find it you can easily choose to add it as long as you have room. If you have already filled up the internal memory, then you will need to remove some filters before you can add more.
The are many more options that you should also look at. The parental control filters are where you set the level of filtering that you want, the rating limit for the DVD player and the password. In order for the ClearPlay filtering to work you must set a password. This makes it so that someone else cannot turn off the filtering without knowing the password.
The ClearPlay settings will take you to where you can choose the level of filtering that each movie will get. There are four categories and many options in each. There are a total of 14 different filter options. The categories are Violence, Sex and Nudity, Language and Other. The Violence category has Strong Action Violence, Gory/Brutal Violence and Disturbing Images. The Sex and Nudity category has Sensual Content, Crude Sexual Content, Nudity and Explicit Sexual Situations. The Language category has Vain Reference to Deity, Crude Language and Humor, Ethnic and Social Slurs, Cursing, Strong Profanity, and Graphic Vulgarity. Finally the Other category has Explicit Drug use. With these options you can custom tailor this DVD player to filter only the things you find questionable.
Overall the biggest pain is managing filters. I would recommend that ClearPlay find a way to increase the number of filters that can be stored in the DVD player so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Mini hard drives have become popular enough that it should not add too much cost to put in a 10 Gb hard drive. This would drastically increase the number of filters you could store on the DVD player. The next version of the DVD player does not have a hard drive. Instead, they added a USB jump drive for portable flash memory. The drive can be used to move ClearPlay Filters from your computer to the player. This will eliminate the need to burn all the filters you download to a disk.
There is also a Display menu which will let you choose how you want the movie to be shown on the screen. You can choose to have movies shown in 4×3 letterbox, 4×3 standard or 16×9 widescreen you can also choose to have the front display on the DVD player dim when playing movies, turn off during movies, always bright or always dim.
The Sound menu is like the Display menu in that you can choose several options for how you want the movie to sound. It has options like Sound Logic and Virtual Surround. Both these can be either on or off.
The Languages menu lets you choose what language you want the DVD players menus, Disk menus, Audio and Subtitles to be in.
The remote is a fairly full featured universial remote. It is able to control your TV, VCR and DVD player.
There is another menu that you can access. This one is accessed while the movie is playing. This menu does not give you any new functionality, but it will let you change some things on the fly. Some of the options that you get with this menu include the angle, audio, bookmark, chapters, play mode, subtitles and screen fit.
The actual performance of the movies is acceptable. The editors at ClearPlay try hard not to interrupt the story line of the movie when designing filters. There are obviously some movies that will probably never get filters. Those types of movies are of such a nature that the movie cannot be edited without removing the majority of the movie like NC-17 and X rated movies.
When watching a movie you will notice when the filter kicks in. You will either notice that the audio has been muted or that a scene abruptly ends. For example, during the hospital scene in Spiderman 2 where the doctors are working on Dr. Octavius, you will see them discussing what happened and what they want to do, but as soon as the arms start moving you are skipped to just as Doc Ock is exiting the hospital Another example in X-Men 2 when the soldiers attack the school and Wolverine starts fighting, anytime he goes to stab a soldier it skips.
The filters are not perfect. There are times when instead of filtering a single bad word they will get either a couple words before or after. I noticed this the most when the person being muted was speaking quickly and it may have been difficult to get the single word. There are also times you may find something that is not filtered. There could be many reasons for this, but ultimately you are relying on the editors at ClearPlay to decide what is acceptable and what is not.
There are many who will say that it filters too much. The great thing about this is that you can adjust it to your liking. If you are not offended by violence then you can easily turn all the violence filters off. If you want to watch a movie unfiltered, then turning off the filters is also very easy. This device puts you in control of what you watch.
There is a little inconsistency between some movie filters. For example, during X-men 2 when the soldiers first enter the school they shoot a boy with darts, this is not filtered out. Also when the first soldier enters the kitchen and fights with Wolverine he starts shooting up the place, this is not filtered. These are both examples of violence that may be objectionable to some people. There are also several other places in X-men 2 that dodn’t seem consistent and remove vital parts of the story. For example, when Mystique is in Strykers office looking up the files she is in her natural form which is basically naked and painted blue. I can see them keeping this because it plays a major role in the plot, but another scene where Mystique injects a guard with iron is deleted. This is also another major part of the plot. You have the choice to show the guard scene, but you do not have the choice to edit the Strikers office scene. I would think the ClearPlay editors would be better off erroring on the side of over filtering and then let the users turn off the filtering for the parts they don’t find objectionable.
Some of the pain of managing filters should be alleviated with the introduction of the new DVD player with the USB drive. I am sure they will continue to innovate and make things easier. If you have a small DVD collection, then managing filters will not be that big of an issue. If you have a huge DVD collection then the initial loading of filters can take a long time. Keep that in mind as you consider this DVD player. Despite the filter management problems, I felt like the product did a fairly good job. The technology is sound and very configurable, and until Hollywood decides to offer multiple versions of movies, this may be the best alternative.
Update 09/02/2010: I recently signed up for a month to month filter subscription so I could get the latest filters. My plan was to cancel after the first month because I didn’t want a reoccurring subscription fee. So at the end of the month I wrote Clearplay to let them know I wanted the reoccurring fee canceled. The response I got back was very surprising.
The email started out pleasant, but right in the middle they said “Are you aware that if you cancel the account, as per the Terms and Conditions and License Agreement, you would have to delete the filters off your filter stick. In order to use the filters, we do ask that you maintain an active account.”
To me this is crazy. I paid for a month of their service, and Clearplay doesn’t have any restrictions on how many filters can be downloaded, so the assumption is that for that month I have unlimited access. No where in the signup, download, or other pages does it say that if I don’t maintain a subscription for life then I loose the right to use the filters. So what if I had been a customer for 10 years and then fell on hard times and had to cancel my account? All that money I spent for the last 10 years is a waste and now I loose all the filters I had paid for? This really isn’t a good way to treat customers.
I immediately wrote back and informed Clearplay that I will no longer be doing business with them and I can no longer recommend their service. That is too bad because I think they are doing a good thing, but their tricky terms are written to hurt their customers, and I cannot support a company that hurts its customers.
BTW, I looked up their Terms (last updated on: 12/02/2008) and I could not find anything about having to delete filters, so maybe this was an overzealous customer support agent, or maybe they have not updated their website. So far I have not gotten a response to my email.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|