Keeping young TV viewers safe from undesirable sounds New device stays a step ahead of offensive language.

science & technology

October 25, 1998|By HARTFORD COURANT

Good heavens!

Now there's a machine that will kick the &$?%! out of your television. And maybe replace it with something nice.

It's called the Foul Language Filter, or, more formally, TVGuardian. It's a black box you hook up to your cable box or VCR that reads the closed-captioning signal encoded into a show.

When the box picks up one of 100 or so words or phrases deemed offensive, it mutes the audio for a second or two. That way, you don't hear what you don't want to hear or, more to the point, what you don't want your kids to hear.

If you use closed-captioning, the box will substitute a less offensive word or phrase - "Cripes!" for instance.

The $199 box is the creation of Richard Bray, 39, president of Principle Solutions Inc. in Rogers, Ark., on the Web at

"I'm a parent, have two kids, and the V-chip wasn't really what I was looking for. ... I think most parents just want a larger selection of family entertainment. They don't want programs blocked."

There were a few bugs to work out. When they ran the program through an old sitcom, "Dick Van Dyke" came out "Jerk Van Gay."

"We laughed about it for days," Bray said.

The way around it was to program the box to search for certain watch words preceding the questionable language - words such as "a," "those" and "of." It's the same way the box screens out "Oh, my God" while leaving "God in heaven" untouched.

Certain words are obvious, but not all.

"There are some words that are kind of borderline and some people would think were OK," Bray said. "That's why we have the tolerant setting."

The "tolerant" setting allows about a dozen words the "strict" setting doesn't. In other words, stuff you might hear Bart utter on "The Simpsons."

The closed-captioning signal usually runs slightly ahead of the audio, which allows the mute program to kick in. The process won't work on certain live shows such as news broadcasts and sporting events.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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