Friday, April 17, 2009

Frequently Asked Friday

What is ClearPlay?

In short, ClearPlay is a company that makes DVD players that automatically skip unwholesome scenes in movies and mute offensive language. My wife ran across this product about a year ago, and we eagerly bought a player. There are definitely some pros and cons to the experience, and we both thought it would be a good idea for me to write a review, in the hopes that some of you will consider purchasing the product (and service).

How does it work?

More details are available at the company's website, as well as this Wikipedia article, but the short of it is that ClearPlay's editors review dozens of new DVD movies each month and create filters that know where the questionable scenes and language are. You purchase a player and their monthly service, which gives you access to their continually changing filter library. Every so often, you download the new set of filters to a USB Flash drive (they call it a FilterStick), which you then insert into the player, when you want to watch a new movie. The player automatically finds the appropriate filter and gives you the option to watch the movie, with or without filtering.

Is it legal?

When it first came out, there were some lawsuits involving copyright protections. However, the courts ruled that since individuals have the right to fast-forward or mute the movies they watch in their own homes, ClearPlay was perfectly within its legal rights. After all, all it does is automate the process for you. Since it does not modify the DVD itself in any way (how could it???), the movie makers' original visions (oh, like I care!!!) remain intact.

How much does it cost?

The players are about $80, and you need to buy an $8 monthly subscription, to get continued access to their continually changing filter library. I suppose you could pay for one month, get the filters, and then cancel, but you would not have access to filters for new movies that come out. I think it's totally worth it.

What are the pros?

Obviously, being able to watch a movie with your kids, without worrying about an f-bomb (or even most slang) or seeing a couple in bed, is a huge benefit. We are very picky about content in movies (and video games), and this product opens up our otherwise limited selection.

ClearPlay doesn't usually skip entire chapters (as defined by the movie's menu). Instead, it skips individual scenes or moments that have gratuitious violence, sensuality, etc.... Most of the time, you hardly even notice it did it, especially if it's a movie that you never saw full-length. An R-rated movie like The Matrix becomes PG-ish. You still see people lying prone on the floor, but not the hail of bullets that tore into them. Nice.

ClearPlay mutes most bad language, including most euphemisms. We were pleasantly surprised how strict their editors usually are.

The players, though only available through their website, are pretty stylish, have all the common A/V connections, and produce clear, crisp images. They boast that they play all the common formats (NOT Blu-Ray, yet), although the only other type of disc I tried was DVDs created on our computer, which worked very well.

Their telephone support is very helpful and friendly, and they bend over backwards, if you have any problems.

What are the cons?

Right off the bat, I should say that you need internet access and familiarity with computers, before you decide to buy. There are several ways to get the filters for your players, and they all involve downloading them. They have a handy program that helps automate the process, but when it doesn't work, you need to know how to manually download the filters from their website.

The ClearPlay editors don't have a problem with the c-word that means "poop", but we do. They also sometimes miss some words or leave in scenes that we would have removed. But these missteps are few and far-between.

While the players are great when they work, they have a high failure rate. We've had the service for not even a year, and we're already on our third player. Our first one all of a sudden got finicky about the types of DVDs it would play: only the double-sided ones. And no, I didn't all of a sudden start putting them in up-side-down! We called for a replacement, and they promised to send one right away, along with a pre-paid shipping label, to send the other one back. But they lost the order TWICE, and it took us a MONTH to get the replacement! They were so sorry that they gave us a free year of service and a free player.

The extra free player came in handy, when our second player stopped receiving commands from the remote. And no, the batteries didn't just run out! And just before that happened, it literally fried our FilterStick, making it unusable. Ever since, I've been careful to remove it from the player, as soon as the filter is loaded.

I also discharge any static electricity I may have, before touching the player, because I have a hunch that's what caused our previous player to malfunction.

There is no Blu-Ray version yet, but the Wikipedia article says they're working on it. Until they have that (hopefully with higher reliality than their current players), we have no reason to buy an expensive Blu-Ray player or the HDTV that would have to accompany it.


ClearPlay is a great idea, and I am a patient man, who's handy with computery thingies. Being able to watch clean movies is well worth the hassle we've gone through, with players breaking on us and the occasional hicups with the website. I am hoping that as the company matures, and the word gets out, reliability will improve. Who knows, maybe they would consider hiring me, to help out with that!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Representing Jesus

In case you're wondering why the sides of our car look banged up, they're not. I took the picture with the car in our relatively dark garage, resulting in a high-dynamic-range situation. The ripples on the edges are the result of my lack of patience to do a good job, trying to fix it up, and now I'm too sick of working on it, to try to do better. LOL!

I had started this post a couple months ago, right around the time that the Lord also inspired my friend Jim to write a post about literally wearing your faith on your sleeve. We joked about him stealing my thunder, and then I got too busy to finish the post.

Anyway, I really got into wearing Jesus shirts in 2004, when we got some printed with "" (this blog's previous incarnation was a bonafide website). Since then, we have amassed quite a variety (as showcased above), including license place frames, bumper stickers, and window clings.

So why do we do it? Just to show off? I'm a firm believer that you need to live the Christian life 24/7 (not because that's what you have to do, but because that's what you are), but what percentage of the people we encounter ever spend enough time around us to observe us living our faith? You can spot the gothic, head-banger teens, from the other end of Walmart, because of their appearance, so why not let yourself be more easily spotted as a "Jesus freak"?

But there is a flip-side, and it has nothing to do with being harassed for it (at least not in the United States... not yet, anyway). It draws extra attention to you, causing any of your un-Christian behavior to reflect poorly upon Jesus, the Bible, and your fellow Christians.

If nothing else, my shirt helps to remind me that, wherever I go, I am an ambassador for Jesus Christ and His perfect plan of salvation. Peter urges us to, "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).

But I often forget that I'm wearing a Jesus shirt (which I think is an excellent demonstration of my unbelievable, unparalleled, and unequaled humility). I would be in a store, and a total stranger would walk by and say, "Me too!" I'd look a little puzzled, until I would look down and see that I was wearing my "I love Jesus" shirt!

Any way that we can witness is great. And the more of us that do it the better, because it will help keep God visible in the public square, where our society and government are systematically eradicating Him. How ironic that while laws are being passed, that condone and even encourage immoral actions, the freedom of religious public expression is being lost.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Played Against John Stockton... AND BEAT HIM!

For those of you who don't know who he is, John Stockton is one of the greatest basketball players to ever grace the hardwood. Probably the best player the Gonzaga Bulldogs ever had, Stockton was drafted by the Utah Jazz NBA team, in 1984. Spending his entire pro career there, he amassed an impressive list of accomplishments. He was voted one of the NBA's all-time best 50 players, led the league in assists, was an All-Star most of his career, and alongside "The Mailman" Karl Malone, led the Jazz to consecutive trips to the NBA finals (both times barely losing to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls). He retired several years ago, and although we live close to his hometown, I lost track of what he's been up to.

Well, last night, I took my son to Laser Quest, while my wife attended a choir concert (totally not my thing, and although I offered to endure it, she said she would have a better time by herself... who am I to argue???). In case you don't know what Laser Quest is either, they're a chain of establishments where you play laser tag. You play in this maze-like arena, equipped with a laser gun and sensors. As you tag other players (and get tagged yourself), the computer keeps track of everyone's scores. At the end, you get to see how well you did. It's great exercise and way less painful than paintball.

Anyway, so we played one game, and as we got in line for the second, I spotted him. John Stockton himself was there, with his wife and kids. I suspect it was their first visit. I don't do well talking to strangers, much less famous strangers, so I was content to just glance over at him once in a while, and not ask for a picture, autograph, or say anything stupid, like "Wow, you're one of my favorite players!"

When it was over, I paid attention to see what his callsign was, and although I was disappointed that we apparently never tagged each other, we were both in the top half of the scores, with me edging him out by a few points. I guess I'll have to be content that even though I did not have the guts to chat with him, I can claim that I was able to best him at something... although if it was a one-on-one game of hoops, he would have mopped the floor with me!