There are a lot of movies that people would like to see, but they choose not to because of some content that they object to. Several companies have tried to help these people by selling edited movies. Most if not all of these companies have been shut down or gone out of business. One company, ClearPlay, has been able to avoid any legal trouble because they don’t actually edit movies. A ClearPlay DVD player, with its customizable filters only skips scenes and mutes the volume when it encounters objectionable content.
- You choose the level of censorship
- Works With 1000s of Movie Titles!
- Progressive Scan, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video
- DVD-Video (NTSC, PAL), DVD+R, DVD+RW, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 CD, JPEG picture CD, Kodak Picture CD
- Optical and Coaxial Digital Audio Output
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. ClearPlay is one of those companies. The only way you can get ClearPlay is built into DVD players.
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 is 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 lots of filters and a 1 year subscription to the download service. 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. There are also multi-year plans that you can purchase if you are interested in saving money.
When you choose which plan you want you are able to download the filters immediately. From there you can either burn them to a CD or, new to this model, you can load them onto a USB stick. When you place the CD or USB stick 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 several thousand filters at a time, which means that even if you have a really large DVD collection you won’t have to swap out filters very often.
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 and there is no HDMI port. The front right has a little door that when flipped down will reveal a USB key and an SD/MMC card reader.
All the other design aspects are inside the DVD player. The menu system design is laid out reasonably well and can easily be navigated using the remote.
When you first turn on the DVD player you will probably want to install some filters. I highly recommend that you put the USB stick of filters in your computer first and update it to the latest filters. The DVD player comes with a one year subscription and when you put in the filter stick you will be prompted to install some software that will allow you to download those filters. During the download of the filters you may also get a firmware update if one is available. When you put the USB stick in the DVD player you will be given an alphabetical list of filters that you need to navigate through to find the one you want. 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.
There 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 12 categories; this is up from 4 in the previous models, and 4 filter settings for each filter. There are a total of 48 different filter options. The categories are Violence, Sex, Nudity, Vulgarity, Bloodshed, Substance Abuse, Blasphemy, Disturbing, Bigotry, Dishonor Parent, Dishonor Flag, and Mushiness. Each category will allow you to choose No Filtering, Least Filtering, Medium Filtering, and Most filtering. With these options you can custom tailor this DVD player to filter only the things you find questionable.
Managing filters is not that big of a deal. With the extra storage space in this new DVD model and the added USB port, managing filters can be really easy. My favorite way to load filters is not going through the huge list of movies and trying to remember which ones I have. I just wait until I watch a movie andif the filter is not loaded, I put the USB key in its port and the DVD player will automatically load the filter if it is on the key.
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 a screen saver turn on when there has not been any activity on the DVD player. The screen saver only comes on when you are in the menus or when a movie is paused. Switching to progressive scan is not as difficult as the last model, but you must make sure the output is set to component and then turn on Progressive Scan.
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 universal 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. This menu appears at the top of the screen when a movie is playing.
ClearPlay will sometimes offer upgrades to the firmware and they are normally applied when you download new filters. In case you want or need to apply a firmware upgrade manually, you will need to get the DVD player to the main menu and press 7-6-0-1-9 on the remote. Once the numbers have been pressed the upgrade screen will appear. You can check the ClearPlay website to see if your firmware is the most recent. If you don’t have the most recent you can download the newest firmware for free from the ClearPlay website. If you ever want to wipe the memory you can type 9-0-2-1-0. This will clear out all your filters and updates, but it keeps your settings. To reset the player to factory defaults you need to type in 7-6-4-1-9. This will get rid of all your settings.
The actual performance of the movies is great. 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 is 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 didn’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.
Warranty and Support
ClearPlay offers a terrible warranty. The warranty for the DVD player is 90 days exchange; 91 days to 1 year reduced-cost exchange. I could not find any way to upgrade the warranty. As far as I could tell buying one of the filter plans does not extend the warranty on the DVD player, they only give you access to the ClearPlay Filter Library. All the plans give you access to the entire filter library, but the monthly plan only allows you to download 15 filters at a time. The one, two and three year plans give you access to the entire ClearPlay Filters Library and you can download as many as you want. The one year plan gives you two months free, the two year plan gives you six months free, and the three year plan gives you a whole year free.
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. Now we just need movie studios to start selling the TV versions of movies and we won’t have to worry about filtering the movies on our own.
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|