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Thomson Bows Parent-Friendly DVD Players

Thomson is preparing to market, through Wal-Mart and Kmart, a pair of RCA-branded DVD players that automatically block out potentially offensive language, sexual content and graphic violence from select pre-recorded DVDs, a Thomson spokesman confirmed.

Called ClearPlay, the content-filtering system was developed by a Salt Lake City-based firm of the same name for use with DVD-ROM-enabled PCs and now specially-equipped DVD players.

The ClearPlay system is a parental control feature that enables children and other viewers to play movies with a rating that parents may feel is inappropriate. Offensive content is automatically skipped during playback and offensive language is automatically muted. The system provides customization controls to allow parents to block up to 14 levels of violence, sex, nudity and profanity.

Edits are programmed into software by a ClearPlay team. The RCA players ship with ClearPlay programming for 100 DVD movies in circulation. Additionally, ClearPlay maintains a regularly updated library of film filters (currently numbering about 600 titles) for an extra fee.

DVD player owners can subscribe to the ClearPlay service for $4.95 per month. Updates will be available via a PC download, requiring users to burn files to a recordable CD or DVD disc , or they may opt to have updated discs mailed to them on a regular basis for an additional $2.95 per month mailing fee. Additionally, users can purchase a disc containing a complete library of filters for a one-time $20 fee.

Dave Arland, Thomson communications and government affairs VP, said the RCA DVD players were developed since CES at the request of the retail chains. Wal-Mart will carry model DRC232N in black, while Kmart will carry a similar version in silver. Both feature the same basic features and will carry suggested retails of $79 when they ship in the May/June timeframe.

Arland said Thomson has been negotiating with ClearPlay for several months and “has had discussions with a number of retailers [about the ClearPlay players]. Both Wal-Mart and Kmart have expressed enough interest to order a SKU of this product. We will see how it does.”

He continued, “We are doing this because we have received interest from two of our largest customers in offering a feature of this type.”

Thomson will entertain requests to open distribution on similar products for other retailers, he said

“Both of these retailers believe there is a market for this,” said Arland. “It gives parents another tool at their disposal, and it comes at a good time.”

Public concern over offensive content is at an all-time high, following Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” and the Federal Communications Commission’s crackdown on radio shock jocks.

According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, technology like ClearPlay’s has drawn heat from Hollywood for altering artistic content without the permission of producers. The Directors’ Guild of America (DGA) and eight Hollywood studios have filed lawsuits against 14 technology developers to seek a ban to systems that edit films without authorization from directors and/or studios.

ClearPlay contends its system is different from other content filtering proposals, because it “does not add any content to mask or overlay scenes in films. Rather, the company’s software is incorporated into DVD players or downloaded to a PC and allows families to view a movie in the home while skipping or muting over graphic violence, profanity or explicit sex,” according to a company statement.

In related news, Thomson announced the expansion of its RCA DVD player line with a combination DVD recorder/VCR, a new entry DVD recorder, a DiVX-enabled, slot-loading DVD player and a tablet-styled portable DVD player.

The combo DVD recorder/VCR, model DRC8300N, is based on the DVD+RW/+R disc formats, and features progressive-scan DVD playback, a four-head HiFi VCR and an on-screen DVD disc library display that stores up to 400 titles. It will ship in May at a $449 suggested retail.

Also added to the RCA DVD recorder line is the DRC8005N, which drops the Gemstar Guide carried in its current model, and adds a front-panel USB 1.1 input for playback or copying of digital photos and music files. It will ship in May at a $349 suggested retail.

The RCA DRC240N ($99, April) is a slot-loading DVD player featuring DiVX file format compatibility. This will enable users to view downloaded DiVX-encoded video content on televisions instead of computer screens. It also supports progressive scan video output and playback of digital photo files, and MP3 and WMA music files.

In portables, RCA will carry a tablet-styled DVD player (model DRC618N) featuring a 7W-inch 16:9 LCD screen, ultra-compact body and MP3 music playback. It will ship in May at a $449 suggested retail.