Oppo DVD Player Offers Big Bang for the Buck
By Jim Bray
Up converting DVD players are pretty well standard equipment these days, even on virtually entry level units being sold as impulse items. These are players that take a DVD's normal 480 pixel resolution output and "digitally fudge" higher resolutions from 720 to 1080 pixels (from the top to the bottom of your screen). But not as many of the affordable players will convert a DVD right up to the holy grail of current HD resolution, 1080p, let alone offer such features and flexibility as DVD Audio and SACD audio reproduction.
Then there's Oppo.
Oppo first came to my attention when they sent me their 970HD, which was a real value tour de force. For $150, it does just about everything you could want from a home theater disc player except slice and dice. My only real complaint was that it didn't go right up to 1080p (like most others, it maxed out at 1080i), which will be important to an increasing number of consumers as high definition matures beyond 720p and 1080i.
So now they make the DV-980H 1080p Up Converting Universal DVD Player, which not only ups the resolution fudging ante, but which also addresses my other main issue with the 970: an annoying habit of inserting silence between the tracks of an SACD audio disc, interrupting continuous tracks on an album and destroying the mood.
Naturally, the first thing I did after hooking the DV-980 into my big Rotel-powered system was to pull out my SACD copy of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", which features a nearly seamless voyage from opening heartbeats to, well, closing heartbeats – with a glorious abundance of soaring classic rock in between.
This is one of the discs the 970HD hamstrung, but to my joy the 980H plays it properly, as virtually one continuous cut (not including the pause where we used to have to turn over the record). So far so good.
Other audio "earmarks" include multi-channel digital audio output through the HDMI interface, which supports CD, DVD-Audio, SACD, Dolby Digital and dts sound tracks. The Oppo's 24-bit, 192kHz high resolution audio D/A converters give true high resolution sound (I used the unit's analog 7.1 channel surround –which you can also use for 5.1 or down-mix the signal into two channel stereo – for listening to my DVD-A and SACD discs), and they've also built in equalizer, channel trim, channel delay and lip-sync functions.
Optical and coaxial digital audio connections output dts, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro-Logic II and Linear PCM signals to your preamp or receiver, and Oppo has even included some gimmicky but possibly popular virtual sound fields such as 3D Surround (Virtual Surround): Concert, Live, Dance, Techno, Classic and Soft. I'd rather have the pure signal, but to each his own.
The $170 980HD is good to go if you want to play DVD-Audio, Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD Video. It's compatible with Audio CD, HDCD, WMA, Kodak Picture CD, and other digital media formats, with the notable exception of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, the two new, true high def disc formats that are annoying consumers by refusing to evolve into a single standard. It's DivX certified, will let you run a high resolution picture slide show, plays XviD and .SRT, .SMI, .IDX and .SUB formats and is compatible with CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW and dual layer DVD+R's.
Heck it even has a front-mounted USB port into which you can hook your portable hard disk drive or music player, which we used to great effect when my son brought over his hard disk to inflict some obscure videos upon us (we'd rather it hadn't worked in that instance, but it performed flawlessly anyway).
Alas, it doesn't do dishes or take the laundry downstairs for us, but I didn't really expect it to.
Outputting into the fudged high definition resolutions is via HDMI cable, which is standard fare for such features, and it'll output 480p/720p/1080i/1080p for NTSC systems and 576p/720p/1080i/1080p for PAL users.
That makes it pretty obsolescence-proof (other than Blu-ray and HD DVD), and if you haven't yet made the move to an HDMI-equipped system you can take advantage of component, composite and S-Video outputs.
You can adjust the sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and gamma to tweak the Oppo to your particular eyes.
And Oppo even throws in an HDMI cable to get you up and running, assuming you can use it right now. But it's a nice touch regardless.
I tried the Oppo at 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p and was impressed with its video quality. Some of the discs I used included the "LOTR The Return of the King", "Star Wars Episode III", "The Fifth Element" Superbit, and some other favorites that really drive a TV or DVD player to put its best foot forward. Video quality was sharp and clean and colorful, with good black levels that helped bring a nice "depth" to the picture, especially with progressively scanned outputs.
Its audio performance was impressive as well. Regardless of what I listened to (remembering that not all discs are created equal), the sound was transparent and easy on the ears. I did notice a bit of sibilance on occasion, and overall its sound is a little thinner with just a hint of, well, shrillness compared to our high end reference player, but it isn't enough to be annoying – and considering the Oppo's price it's hardly worth noting.
Audio material tested besides the "Dark Side of the Moon SACD included a variety of my favorite DVD-Audio discs, and a wide selection of CD's whose quality ranged all over the map. With a good signal, the Oppo sounded very good.
Okay, I wouldn't want to give up my $1500 reference DVD player in favor of the Oppo, but I was still mightily impressed with the DV-980H's performance-to-dollar ratio. Considering the things it'll do and how well it does them, it's a relative steal.
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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