Flagship OPPO DVD Player Another Value Hit
By Jim Bray
It looks as if OPPO Digital has done it again. The company's flagship DVD player builds on the success of its previous models, adding new capabilities and even better quality to the mix.
The DV-983H, which sells for about $399 U.S., is a fully-featured DVD Audio and Video player with SACD capability, 7.1 channel audio output, and full 1080p up conversion. That's a lot of functionality for the price – though it's also the company's most expensive player I've tried – and about the only thing missing is Blu-ray capability, which is undoubtedly in the works.
The DV-983H is the third OPPO player I've tried, and each one has been better than the last. I've proclaimed each so far to be a bargain considering their capabilities and prices, and I have no problem saying that about this one, too. About my only quibbles are about the non-backlit remote with buttons and labels difficult for my middle aged eyes to see without my reading glasses – and that's a common complaint I have and not limited to OPPO.
Why would anyone pay nearly 400 greenbacks for a DVD player in a marketplace that's starting to move (albeit more slowly than I'd like) away from standard definition DVD's and toward high definition Blu-ray discs and Blu-ray players that are priced in the same ballpark?
I can think of a couple of reasons. One is the OPPO's excellent DVD (where the vast amount of titles are still being released) video performance. It features Anchor Bay's latest VRS (Video Reference Series) technology to ensure optimal up conversion to the magic 1080p resolution, and it works well, indeed.
According to OPPO, Anchor Bay provides a number of enhancements (with names such as AutoCUE-C, Progressive Cadence Detection, Precision De-interlacing, Precision Video Scaling, frame rate conversion, aspect ratio control and video zooming) that create "a clearer, smoother, and true-to-life picture free of artifacts." This is high end stuff.
While even an up converted DVD isn't going to look as wonderful as a good Blu-ray disc, they can be good enough – easily – to either tide you over until BD versions are released or let you thumb your nose at Hollywood's continual trips back to the well to sell you newer, different and supposedly better DVD versions of your favorite titles.
DVD's up converted to 1080p tend to look a little flat and soft compared to their Blu-ray counterparts, especially on a really big screen, but I've noticed that after a few minutes I tend to forget about it and get drawn into the "near HD" picture anyway.
I auditioned the DV-983H on a 106 inch front projection screen, large enough to magnify any flaws, and was very pleased with its performance on a variety of DVD's. I also tried different resolutions (mostly 480p and 1080p, with a bit of 720p and 1080i thrown in to make things interesting) and its video performance was first rate. I preferred 1080p on a screen that size, but the overall picture from the 983H was very good at all resolutions.
There are oodles of video settings you can use, but after some initial messing about to see what was what I stuck the player back on its default settings (or "auto" when available) and left it there, perfectly content with its performance. Such settings include mundane things as the color of the border (the "black bars" or, in this case, "black or gray bars") displayed when a disc's aspect ratio is other than your TV's (it could be letterboxing – black bars above and below the picture – or "keyholing" – black bars to the sides of the picture) to more esoteric adjustments like hue/saturation, Y/C Delay and CUE Correction.
And that's just the beginning of the video tweaks available.
Hookup is flexible, too. Besides the HDMI connection you'll need for 1080p output, you get component, S- and composite video connections. Only the HDMI and component connections will offer anything other than standard definition, but they can still come in handy, especially if you haven't moved to HD yet and are "buying for the future". I used the composite output to feed an old Sony XBR I use for setting menus and the like (so I don't have to fire up the big 106 projection system if I’m only doing some tweaking) and it worked fine.
OPPO has also included an abundance of adjustments for the audio side, from speaker size and delay to special equalization settings, linear PCM output frequency and plenty more.
Which brings me to the DV-983H's audio performance.
One thing I like about the OPPO is its "full meal deal" audio smorgasbord, which not only plays DVD's and DVD-Audio discs, but CD's, HDCD's and SACD discs. It'll output the audio via conventional coax or optical cables, and there's the HDMI and 7.1 channel analog connectors for the higher resolution stuff.
I used the HDMI and 7.1 analog the most, though only in a 5.1 configuration, and liked what I heard. Earlier OPPO's had a bit of an "edge" on some recordings, but this player's audio output seems smoother and more realistic. Good CD's, such as the re-mastered "The Who Live At Leeds" (a disc with extremely good dynamics I often use as a test disc) and other favorites I like to test players with sounded wonderful, full of life and with excellent channel separation that made you almost feel as if you were there.
A good DVD-A or SACD can sound even better. The player's high resolution 192kHz, 24-bit audio D/A converters do a nice job here, and it plays such discs without inserting the annoying pause between tracks that some (including an earlier OPPO) players do, separating continuous cuts in a most distressing way.
For movie soundtracks, the OPPO decodes Dolby Digital Surround EX decoding, dts Digital Surround, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro-Logic II.
There's even an "audio only" button on the remote control that turns off the video circuitry, letting the player concentrate its attention on the sound quality.
I was a bit nonplussed initially when, upon unpacking the unit and hooking it up, I fired up a couple of surround sound DVD-A and SACD discs (before I'd tried any video sources), only to find them outputting only in stereo via HDMI. A trip to the owner's manual told me to set the player's video resolution to 720p or higher (which I would have done anyway, of course, once I got around to messing with the video side) and from that point onward all was well.
The manual says this is an HDMI thing, yet another annoying reality about what can be an excellent interface when it isn't causing components to argue with each other. In this instance it isn't a big deal anyway, since most people will undoubtedly set the unit to output at 720p or higher.
The player also has a USB 2.0 interface for video, picture and music file playback (such as a photo slide show). It's mounted on the rear panel, though, which makes it a tad inconvenient. You also get RS232 and external infrared remote integration and the player's compatible with Kodak Picture CD, Windows Media Audio and other digital audio/video/picture files on CD-R/RW and DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL discs.
The story doesn't end there: it also offers a multitude of "more ordinary" features that, if they don't bring new meaning to your life, at least make your home theater experience more flexible and enjoyable. Most of them are pretty standard and aren't things I use a lot, such as repeat mode, A-B repeat, shuffle, random play, various zoom levels and a bookmarking feature, but they're there if you want them.
Even the manual is good, with plainly-written advice and information.
Needless to say, I've been thrilled with the OPPO's performance and once again am blown away by the quality vs. price quotient. I can't wait to see what they do with Blu-ray.
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
We welcome your comments!