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VOL. 112 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 26, 1998

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It's 6:30 in the evening, the kids are home from school and soccer practice, and while a parent takes a few minutes to pop dinner in the microwave, children plop down in front of the television Censor-chip technology New technology allows parents to monitor childrens viewing By KATHLEEN BURT The Daily News Its 6:30 in the evening, the children are home from school and soccer practice, and while a parent takes a few minutes to pop dinner in the microwave, the kids plop down in front of the television. Or better yet, its 4 p.m. and Mom or Dad isnt home from work yet, so the kids have a chance to catch a few minutes of entertainment on their favorite cable channel before homework, dinner and nightly routines take over. Either way, busy parents may not know whats on the tube. But the children are watching. Watching one of 10,000 acts of violence theyll see on television in their early lives, seeing adults engage in all kinds of activities, seeing kids struggle with drug use and not always winning. And, as anyone with children knows, their minds are like a sponge, soaking it all in. After a tragedy in Canada, one parent took a stand against these scenarios in an attempt to shield his children from excessive violence. In 1989, 14 female engineering students were brutally murdered in Montreal, Quebec. When the suspect was taken into custody and his living quarters searched, dozens of extremely violent movies and taped television programs were found. On the other side of the country, Canadian Tim Collings was a young engineering professor at a school in British Columbia. He used V-chip technology to create a blocking device parents could use to control their childrens television viewing. His invention came to the forefront of U.S. politics when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed. The Telecommunications Act required all television sets manufactured after July 1, 1999 to be equipped with V-chip technology. The TV Guidelines rating system, using rating and content codes, was adopted to help parents have a choice as to the types of programming watched by their children. Collings invention could be used in the interim while manufacturers worked to equip televisions with internal V-chips. Those rating and content codes are now embedded in the television signal and are used by V-gis blocking boxes to help parents customize viewing standards on their terms. That technology is about to arrive at two Memphis businesses. Beginning Sept. 8 in its regional release, V-gis blocking boxes manufactured by Tri-Vision in Nashville will be available at Memphis-area Toys R Us and Sams Club stores. For less than $80, adults can block programming that carries unwanted ratings or content codes. The V-gis box, which is about the size of a cable box, has its own remote control and installs on a set in about five minutes, said Chad Corley, a public relations representative with McGee Best Frank & Ingram, an advertising firm based in Nashville that is handling publicity for Tri-Vision. The box can be placed behind the television. The device is controlled with the use of an infrared signal sent to a coin-sized disc that rests on top of the set. The technology uses codes embedded in television programming and blocks programs deemed inappropriate by the user. Blocked programs can be viewed if the personal identification number is entered to the system. "Say you have Matlock blocked so your kids cant watch it. If the kids are spending the night with a friend and you want to watch Matlock, you hit the menu option select view blocked program, it will request the PIN number, you input that and it allows the blocked program to come through," Corley said. This method would keep a program with a similar rating blocked if the channel was changed and revert back to the pre-programmed instructions once the program ends, Corley said. "It hasn't changed the overall programming," he said. Anyone who has watched television recently probably has noticed the letters that appear in a small white box at the top of the screen when the show begins. The rating range from TV Y, which is suitable for all ages to TV MA, programming suggested for mature adults only. Under some of the higher ratings, content codes are included. Under the TV MA rating, for example, are the letters V, S and L. V means the program contains graphic violence, S means the program contains explicit sexual situations and L means that the program contains crude, indecent language. V-gis is the only V-chip box currently entering the market that allows users to block for content, Corley said. With this system, if the user does not want to see explicit sexual situations, but crude language is OK, then the box can be programmed for that setting. If a program comes on that has a blocked rating, the screen will go black. The title of the program, the rating, the total running time and the elapsed time of the program are displayed on the screen. And as digital systems take over from the current analog circuitry, V-gis is designed to adapt. "Its a digital product that handles both digital and analog TVs," said Todd Grunberg, Tri-Vision vice president of marketing and business development. Analog televisions will be outdated and basically useless by 2007, according to the latest estimates by manufacturers and analysts. However, V-chip technology has opponents. Some see it as another excuse not to parent. Others say the ratings are chosen by arbitrary means. Still others say the ratings arent strong enough. Even supporters agree the technology is no substitute for being aware as a parent. "Parents need to understand that in no way does this product address violence on TV, but it's a step in the right direction," Corley said. "It helps parents do a better job." Even the rating system is experimental and will probably undergo changes. All the major networks use the rating system in some form. Of the top 20 most popular cable channels, 10 dont require ratings. Of the remaining 10, eight are encoding their programming. The 10 that don't require ratings are weather channels, news channels and music channels, such as MTV. Under the current Telecommunications Act, there is no deadline by which all cable channels must comply with the ratings system. By Jan. 1, 2000 all new televisions must have V-chip technology installed. After the regional release of V-gis, the product is scheduled for nationwide release in October. More information about Toronto-based Tri-Vision and V-gis can be obtained at the company Web site http://www.v-gis.com.

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