You're going out for the evening and don't want your children to watch the blood and guts movie "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on television. You push a button on your remote control so they can't.
That scenario may not be far off.New TV sets enabling people to specifically block violent programs from being displayed on screen could be in retail stores in 18 months, Jonathan Thompson, a spokesman for the Electronic Industries Association's consumer electronics group, said this week.
The electronics industry took a major step to make that happen when the largest TV set manufacturers last week agreed to equip new sets with blocking technology, which goes by the nickname "V chip."
But a number of factors may blunt the technology's effectiveness for consumers, the most significant of which may be a dearth of programs that are electronically coded for violent content.
Under the V chip system, a viewer punches a code into a remote control that will block all programs with a "V" for violent rating. The technology identifies the code and blocks the program. The code is carried in the signal that transmits a program into viewers' homes.
So far, the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox networks have refused to rate programs.
CBS Senior Vice President Martin Franks said existing policies at each of the networks, including parental advisories, already give viewers adequate information about a show's content.
"Our feedback from viewers is that they know what to expect. They know what `NYPD' is, what `ER' is, what `Murphy Brown' is . . . We rarely surprise the viewer," Franks said in an interview.
A ratings system also would be hard for the industry to implement, Franks said. "We get a show one day before it airs. The idea of a show going through a MPAA-like (Motion Picture Association of America) board is a logistical nightmare," Franks said.
Another problem: Because the manufacturers' program is voluntary, the new technology may show up only in the most expensive sets, those selling for $1,000 and up, said some industry executives, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Contrary to its nickname, the V chip is not a computer chip. The V chip is technology that would be added to a microprocessor already in TV sets. That microprocessor is currently used to provide closed captioning - text of a program's dialogue - at the bottom of the TV screen like subtitles in a foreign film. Thompson estimated that consumers will pay about $20 more for a set with the new technology.