Oppo Blu-ray Player Offers Superb Video, Audio
By Jim Bray
There are Blu-ray players that excel at playing high def movies, and others – like Sony's PlayStation 3 – that up the ante by adding gaming, networking, and the like.
Then there's Oppo's BDP-83, which doesn’t offer gaming or media streaming, but which outputs incredible sound and video quality, with the added bonus of being virtually a universal player that handles a wide variety of disc and file formats with aplomb.
I first became familiar with Oppo thanks to a series of excellent up converting DVD players that also handled DVD-Audio and SACD (Super Audio CD) discs. Up converting is old hat now – heck, you can buy entry level DVD players in impulse sale bunks these days that do it – but DVD-Audio and SACD playback is still relatively rare. Besides, just because a player up converts doesn't mean it does it well. The Oppo does.
The BDP-83 is Oppo's first Blu-ray player and, like the DVD players that preceded it, it's a very flexible beauty. Here's a list taken from Oppo's website of the discs and formats it'll handle for you: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE.
Whew! I don't know about you, but that's more formats than I use, so if you're anything like me (a frightening prospect, I'm sure!) chances are the Oppo will play whatever you throw at it.
That's a good start. The player's terrific quality is an even better finish.
Setting up the player is a breeze, thanks to a quick and easy routine they've built in. Even if you opt to do everything yourself, the menus are simple and straightforward. And if you run into something you don't understand, the well-written manual will undoubtedly ride to your rescue.
The BDP-83 also offers you controls for a wide variety of picture parameters, though when I checked out the setup it was fine right out of the box and so I left it alone. You can also control bass management, speaker levels and sizes and distances so you can use it best with analog input/outputs – i.e. the 5.1/7.1 outputs that work so well with DVD-Audio and SACD.
Of course analog outputs are only the beginning of what the Oppo offers. Here's the list of outputs:
Add to that the network cable input, one for USB 2.0 (there's a second USB port on the front panel, too) and remote control I/O and you have enough ports to choke a horse. You'd think it would make for a very busy rear panel and you'd be right, but it's laid out well and easy to fathom.
When I first set up the player and plugged it into our home network, it informed me of a firmware update, then downloaded and installed it without fuss. Using the networking for BD Live is also quick and painless. If only BD Live features were worth it!
I love the inclusion of two channel stereo outputs. Sure, you can use the 5.1/7.1 outputs for stereo if you like, but having this choice lets you hook up surround sound and stereo separately, using your preamp/processor or receiver's dedicated CD inputs. Oppo says the stereo outputs use specially optimized Digital-to-Analog Converters and output driving stage, to "Oppo-timize" it for CD playback.
And patch cord makers – undoubtedly panicked that people who used to buy multiple cables for audio and video are now opting for HDMI's single cable solution – will love you!
But I digress…
Oppo uses Anchor Bay Video Reference Series (VRS) technology for up converting DVD's, and it delivers clean and smooth performance that's extremely watchable. To test this I ran, among other things, my Superbit DVD of "The Fifth Element" back to back with the remastered Blu-ray and, while I wouldn't want to go back to the older format, I was very impressed with how the Oppo up converted the DVD's picture to 1080p. It's still not Blu-ray, but it's great DVD.
I routed the BDP-83's video output to an Epson 1080/24p front projector firing onto a 106 inch screen, a screen size that magnifies any flaws, but I couldn't find anything to complain about on DVD up conversion (other than it not being Blu-ray). And its Blu-ray playback is a thing of beauty.
Besides "The Fifth Element", some of my favorite reference-quality Blu-rays included Peter Jackson's "King Kong", the new "Star Trek" movie and "Terminator Salvation" – and pretty well anything from Disney/Pixar, such as "A Bug's Life" and "Monsters Inc". It was a wonderful home theater experience: colors are rich and deep and the black levels are superb, the picture excelling in that great "depth" which looks almost 3D on a good system.
It's easily the best player I've reviewed to date. Disc playback starts very quickly, too, almost warp speed compared to some players.
If you're using an external video processor, you might like the Oppo's "Source Direct" Mode, which outputs the disc's original audio/video content, eschewing processing. It works well. The HDMI 1.3 output also sends uncompressed digital video with 30 bit and 36-bit Deep Color support, and there's a variety of aspect ratio and image zooming settings, including a vertical stretch mode for those who are lucky enough to have a 2.35:1 Constant Image Height home theater.
The Oppo's no slouch for audio, either. I connected it to a fine Rotel 5.1 system that cranks out 500 watts per channel and was very impressed. The analog outputs work beautifully with the new "high resolution" audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and dts HD Master Audio), decoded inside the player and then sent to the preamp's analog inputs. The HDMI performance is also top notch, but I preferred using the analog outputs because they gave a richer and more involving listening experience overall. Talk about an "ear opening" experience!
Audio sources included 2L's "Divertimenti" (on Blu-ray audio and SACD), Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" SACD, and DVD-Audio discs such as Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms", Les Brown & His Band of Renown "Session #55", Carly Simon's "No Secrets" and Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". The sound quality was excellent; very dynamic, with wonderful balance and tone, and great clarity – not only rich and clean, but with excellent "oomph" as well.
The dedicated CD outputs also perform nicely, though I find it hard listening to compact discs these days because so many of them sound thin compared to DVD-Audio and SACD.
Bottom line: whether for music or movies, this player is a pleasure to use. From past experience with Oppo I expected it to excel, and it does – even better than I'd expected.
It's a handsome unit, too, quite heavy and solid-feeling and, other than a slight rattling noise that appeared occasionally when it loaded and began playing a disc, its performance has been flawless. The rattling is a little disconcerting, but it doesn't seem to affect the performance at all and it only happens with a few specific discs (the "King Kong" BD, for example).
And even with this anomaly, the Oppo is still the best BD player I've used.
The backlit remote control is the best I've used from Oppo. The buttons are big and laid out logically – and the backlighting is wonderful when you're watching in a darkened room.
Oppo even throws in a bag you can use as a carrying case (or shopping bag), and also includes an HDMI cable in the box.
And get this: Oppo gives you two setup/test discs for calibrating your system. Spears & Munsil's High Definition Benchmark takes care of the video side nicely, while AIX Records' Audio Calibration disc includes a system setup tutorial, test tones, and some very nice sample material from their catalog.
Okay, $499 isn't cheap for a Blu-ray player these days, but considering the overall quality of the Oppo BDP-83, its flexibility and the value-added extras included in the package it's definitely worth a look if you're seeking top quality audio and video performance.
In short, Oppo has definitely done it again, this time creating a spectacular universal disc Blu-ray player. Not bad for a brand of which most people have probably never heard.
Copyright 2009 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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