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Hardware Review: OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray Player
Tags: Joshua Zyber (all tags)
Despite arriving three years into the format's existence, the OPPO BDP-83 may just be the most anticipated Blu-ray player yet. Does the machine live up to its hype? High-Def Digest reviewer Joshua Zyber puts the player through its paces.
By Joshua Zyber
Full disclosure: I want to admit up front that I, like most home theater hardware reviewers, am an OPPO Digital fan. Although perhaps not a brand name with the mainstream recognition of the major electronics giants, the company has worked hard to earn its reputation among home theater enthusiasts as a premium label without the premium prices. Ever since the release of its original OPDV971H model back in 2005, OPPO has built a highly-regarded line-up of DVD players that offer top-quality upconversion for MSRPs ranging from $169 to $399. No, these aren't the cheapest DVD players on the market, but they are extremely reasonable for the quality and features provided. The company's previous flagship, the DV-983H, was often compared to high-end models priced in the thousands of dollars.
Despite clamoring from fans, OPPO took its time before jumping into the high-def waters. Finally, in the third year of the format's life, the company has released its first Blu-ray player, the BDP-83, which has been built off the backbone of the earlier DV-983H with the new addition of Blu-ray playback. With an MSRP of $499, the BDP-83 officially replaces the (now discontinued) DV-983H as the company's flagship player. It is also OPPO's only Blu-ray model.
Arriving at a time when other manufacturers are making a concerted effort to drive down the prices of Blu-ray players, the BDP-83 may seem overpriced at first glance. Again, this is not the cheapest player on the market. However, it's also not an entry-level model. As a true Universal player compatible with not just Blu-ray and DVD, but also the Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio music formats, the BDP-83's closest direct competitor is the $4,500 Denon DVD-A1UDCI.
At 1/9th the price of the Denon model, can the OPPO BDP-83 compete with the high end of the market? At the same time, does its mid-level price really provide a discernable improvement over less expensive options from bigger brand names? Does the Blu-ray player live up to the expectations set by OPPO Digital's prior history and reputation in the DVD arena? These are the questions I faced when putting the BDP-83 to the test.
Sometimes, even the little touches go a long way toward making a favorable first impression. OPPO Digital wants buyers to recognize that its products are not cheap off-brand junk. Like most of the company's DVD players, the Blu-ray model comes packaged in a handy tote bag inside the box. The owner's manual is coherently-written and quite useful, which is not often the case with consumer electronics. Updates to the manual are also available on the OPPO Digital web site.
The BDP-83 is a handsome Blu-ray player. It's a sturdily built machine with a brushed metallic hood and faceplate that lend it a high-end appearance and feel. Only the remote controller is a little clunky in aesthetics. The remote has oversized buttons and looks a little (unintentionally) '80s retro. Fortunately, the button configuration is clearly laid out and easy to navigate. Other accessories include a power cord, HDMI cable, and generic yellow/red/white RCA A/V cables. Sadly, no Ethernet cable has been provided, so you'll need to supply that yourself to connect the unit online.
Also enclosed in the box is a calibration disc to get you started. The 'Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark' will assist with fine-tuning your video controls and measuring the player's deinterlacing performance.
Video and audio connections on the back panel include Composite Video (useless for high definition), Component Video, HDMI 1.3, and both Coaxial and Toslink optical S/PDIF. There are separate sets of stereo and 7.1 analog audio outputs. The player lacks an S-video output, but (like Composite) that's pointless for a high-def machine anyway.
Either the HDMI or Component connection will pass high definition video from a Blu-ray disc to an HDTV display. However, due to pointless restrictions mandated by the DVD Forum, DVD upconversion can only be performed using HDMI. The Component outputs are limited to a maximum of 480p resolution for DVD or 1080i resolution for Blu-ray*. HDMI will transmit up to 1080p video for either format.
(*If a Blu-ray disc were ever to be flagged with an Image Constraint Token, the player's Component outputs would be restricted to 480p resolution for both formats. Fortunately, no home video studios have yet implemented the ICT flag thus far.)
The BDP-83 is capable of decoding all of the high-res audio formats internally, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. As a result, you can get full lossless quality sound from either the HDMI or 7.1 analog connections. On the other hand, the S/PDIF connections (Coax and Toslink) can only carry the legacy lossy Dolby Digital and DTS formats, or 2 channels of uncompressed PCM. (Please see our earlier Blu-ray Audio Explained article for more information.)
If you have compatible equipment, the ideal configuration is to route HDMI from the player to an A/V receiver, and then HDMI again from the receiver to the HD display. This will give you the best in both video and audio, and will cause the least amount of cable clutter.
An ethernet LAN port facilitates the internet connection for firmware updates and BD-Live. OPPO also sells a wireless bridge kit separately if desired. The player has an IR In & Out for hooking up an external IR remote sensor, as well as USB 2.0 ports on both the front and rear for playing media files from other devices. An optional RS-232 port for automation purposes can be custom ordered at additional cost.
The default frequencies for the remote control will conflict with other OPPO components, if you should happen to have any (as I do). Fortunately, the player can be changed to two alternate sets of codes. After adjusting the setting in the on-screen menus, you'll need to take the lid off the battery compartment on the controller itself to find a manual switch that will sync the remote to the player.
The on-screen setup menus are intuitive and painless. OPPO Digital has a sterling reputation for customer service, and regularly updates its players to keep up with disc compatibility issues caused by studios constantly changing their encryption protocols. Firmware upgrades in the BDP-83 can be accomplished either by downloading and burning a file to CD-Rom, or using the player's internet connection. In the latter case, only official production firmwares can be loaded, not beta files (public or private). The player can also be set to display a notification message the next time a production firmware is available for internet download.
The OPPO BDP-83 is a full-featured player compatible with both Profile 1.1 "Bonus View" and Profile 2.0 "BD-Live." (See our Blu-ray Profiles Explained article for more details.) Unlike many standalone Blu-ray players, the unit comes equipped with 1 GB of internal storage for BD-Live pre-installed. More storage can be added through the USB ports, if needed.
Using HDMI, video can be output at any resolution up to 1080p, including 1080p24. Not only will the unit output Blu-rays at 24 fps, but it can also convert DVD content to that rate. In my testing, converting DVDs to 24 fps was occasionally a little glitchy. Just about every disc stumbles at least once or twice. But that's not uncommon, due to the many flagging and cadence errors prevalent on the format. I've had the same result using other disc players and external processors that perform this task. I recommend leaving DVDs at the default 60 Hz rate by turning the "DVD 24p Conversion" setting off. This will not affect Blu-ray playback, which can still be output at 24 fps irrespective of the DVD setting.
If you wish to have deinterlacing and scaling performed by an external device or your HD display, a Source Direct option is also available. Source Direct will output all video content in its native resolution. DVDs will be transmitted as either 480i (if NTSC) or 576i (if PAL), and Blu-rays will be output at 1080i or 1080p, depending on how the disc is authored. Turning on Source Direct disables all video processing inside the player, including aspect ratio control and picture adjustments (see below).
The BDP-83 is compatible with both NTSC and PAL standard-def content, as well as high-def content at 24 fps, 50 Hz, or 60Hz. It can convert any of these resolutions or frame rates to any other as desired. As far as I'm aware, this is the only Blu-ray player currently able to frame rate convert the PAL or 1080i50 content on some import Blu-rays to 60 Hz. (Most American BD players are not compatible with 50 Hz at all; of those that will accept it, most will only output it at the original 50 Hz rate.) However, the player is locked to Region 1 for DVD and Region A for Blu-ray. Unlike OPPO's other DVD players, there is no secret combination of buttons on the remote control that can make the player region-free. The BDP-83 will only play NTSC DVDs encoded for Region 1 or Region 0, and only PAL DVDs encoded as Region 0. It will not play import Blu-rays coded exclusively to Region B or Region C, or import DVDs coded for Regions 2 through 8.
Assuming you choose not to use the Source Direct option, the player's Aspect Ratio controls offer a choice between "16:9" or "16:9 Wide/Auto." The latter will automatically pillarbox 4:3 standard-def content in the center of the screen. This applies to both DVDs or SD material on a Blu-ray disc (such as bonus features). The unit also has several Zoom levels for users who'd rather crop the picture on their screen than deal with black bars. Viewers with 2.35:1 Constant Image Height projection systems will find an option for "2.35:1 Stretch" in the Zoom commands that is helpful for scaling "scope" movie content to properly fill their matching screens when paired up with an anamorphic lens. (Note that the Stretch setting will not correct the subtitle position for any text in the letterbox bar.) Again, all of these aspect ratio controls are disabled under Source Direct.
All video processing is accomplished through an Anchor Bay VRS chip, the same one used in the DVDO Edge external processor. The chip performs deinterlacing, scaling, and other picture adjustments. The deinterlacing options are: Auto, Film Bias, Video, 2:2 Even, or 2:2 Odd. The Auto setting is most appropriate for the vast majority of viewing material, whether Blu-ray or DVD. If a specific disc gives you problems, one of the other options may be useful. (2:2 Even and Odd are both geared for PAL video.)
Color Space can be set for: Auto, RGB Video, RGB PC, YCbCr 4:4:4, or YCbCr 4:2:2. If you aren't sure which your display is compatible with, or which is the most appropriate to use, just choose Auto. The unit also offers a setting called "HDMI Deep Color" that will upsample the color signal to 30-bit or 36-bit resolution. This will only work with a DeepColor compatible display.
The player also shares a host of picture adjustments with the DVDO Edge processor. These include: Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Detail Enhancement, Edge Enhancement, Mosquito Noise Reduction, and Y/C Delay. The Brightness, Contrast, and Saturation controls all work well enough, but I recommend leaving them at the default "0" and doing your calibration at the display instead. Ideally, you want your display calibration to apply to all video sources, rather than tune each device individually. The Anchor Bay chip's Detail Enhancement and Edge Enhancement settings will electronically sharpen a video image, usually with less ringing artifacts (at least at the lower levels) than comparable controls that your HD display may offer. This may come down to personal preference, but for the most accurate and least artificial-looking results you should just leave these off. In my experience, the Mosquito Noise Reduction setting doesn't do much. The type of artifact that Anchor Bay's NR algorithm searches for is so specific that this control rarely has any affect on anything. When it does take action, it softens the picture. Again, I suggest just leaving it off.
A Demo Mode can provide split-screen comparisons to demonstrate what your picture will look like with and without any of these picture controls engaged.
The machine will automatically bookmark your location and Resume Play after shutdown on DVDs, CDs, SACDs, and selected Blu-rays (so long as they aren't Java-enabled). Unfortunately, the Resume Play feature does not work on Java-enabled Blu-rays. This is a limitation of the Blu-ray design spec that no player can yet overcome.
The Display button on the remote brings up an info screen with data on the disc's video and audio formats, time remaining, current chapter, subtitle track selected, and bit rate.
As mentioned earlier, the BDP-83 offers full internal decoding of the high-def audio formats Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD (both High Resolution and Master Audio). When you set the Audio option for "PCM" in the Setup menus, movie soundtracks will be output in full quality over either HDMI (in multi-channel PCM format) or 7.1 analog. This is useful for A/V receivers that don't offer HDMI 1.3 inputs or decoding of these Blu-ray formats. If you choose to decode audio internally, the player offers speaker Size, Distance, and Trim controls, as well as Dynamic Range Compression (for late night viewing that won't wake the neighbors).
Alternately, you may transmit the raw audio codecs to an HDMI 1.3 equipped receiver, to do the decoding there. For this, set your sound options for "Bitstream" in the HDMI Audio section of the Setup menu. All speaker controls will be disabled in the player; your receiver will take over those responsibilities.
For general movie playback, you should leave the Secondary Audio option in the Setup menu off by default. Turning it on will prevent the player from decoding the full lossless Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio formats, or transmitting their raw bitstreams. Instead, your audio will be downgraded to standard lossy fidelity.
Of course, turning Secondary Audio off means that any dialogue or sounds associated with "Bonus View" Picture-in-Picture content will not be audible. Those features will be silent while the regular movie soundtrack plays. If you wish to watch a Bonus View PiP feature with appropriate audio, you'll need to go back into the Setup menu to change the Secondary Audio setting on. Unfortunately, simply pressing the "SAP" button on the remote will not be sufficient, if the option in the Setup menu has not also been turned on. That button will only work to turn secondary audio content on or off if the Setup menu option has already been enabled.
Remember to turn Secondary Audio off again when you're done, or your next movie soundtrack will be back to lossy quality.
On most Blu-ray players, entering the Setup menus to turn Secondary Audio on or off is a tremendous nuisance, forcing you to stop playback of the movie, then restart the disc from the beginning afterwards. The BDP-83 makes this a little easier. The Setup menu can be brought up at any time, even during movie playback. You can change the audio options on-the-fly without stopping the disc. I still think that a Blu-ray player manufacturer should come up with a way to toggle the Secondary Audio option via a single button press on the remote, without having to go through the Setup menu. In the meantime, the implementation on the BDP-83 is at least somewhat improved in convenience.
In the instance that the player's video processing causes lip sync errors in your system, the player also offers an adjustable audio delay via the AV Sync setting.
After Denon's DVD-A1UDCI, the OPPO BDP-83 is only the second universal Blu-ray player compatible with both the DVD-Audio and SACD music formats. If using HDMI, SACD discs can be transmitted in their raw DSD codec or decoded internally and sent as PCM. The DVD-Audio disc I tested was transmitted to my receiver as PCM. The player can also perform Digital-to-Analog conversion on either format, if you choose to use the multi-channel analog outputs instead. Unfortunately, I was never a collector of either format, but I did have one title from each on hand: '2L: The Nordic Sound' (a series of "audiophile reference recordings" of 19 Classical music tracks from Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn, and others.) on SACD and the 'Koyaanisqatsi' score by Philip Glass on DVD-Audio. Both worked as advertised and sounded great.
Testing & Performance
The BDP-83 boots up remarkably quickly. In fact, this is one of the fastest standalone Blu-ray players on the market both for initial startup and loading discs. Using the Sony Playstation 3 as a benchmark, the BDP-83 is generally on par with that console for speed. Any given title may be a second faster or slower, but by and large they are equivalent in this regard. Both are speed demons compared to any of the other Blu-ray players I've used since the format's inception. Of course, some Java-heavy BD titles (like 'Ratatouille') may always be a challenge. Nevertheless, the BDP-83 is fast enough that owners no longer need to give the matter any thought. The player's connection times to BD-Live are also comparable to the PS3, and are much faster than my other Profile 2.0 standalone Blu-ray model (the Panasonic DMP-BD50).
In use, the player is very responsive when entering commands. The only minor nuisance I found was that the transition times between HD content (such as the movie or main menu) and SD content (like bonus features) on the same Blu-ray disc causes a delay where the player must sync to the new resolution. Often this means that the SD feature will start playback for a second or two before the picture pops in. In order to see the whole thing, you'll have to skip back to the beginning of the chapter. This occurs whether you choose to have the player perform upconversion to 1080p or choose Source Direct instead. I've had the same problem on other standalone Blu-ray players, but the PS3 has a seamless transition at these junctures. I'd gotten quite used to that, and hoped for the same from the OPPO.
The BDP-83 marks the seventh Blu-ray player I've used in my home theater system since the debut of the format. In my experience, Blu-ray picture quality for 1080p24-encoded movies has been a level playing field across the board. The only exception I've found was the first-generation Samsung BDP-1000 (the very first Blu-ray player), which lacked raw 1080p24 output and had non-adjustable Digital Noise Reduction engaged at all times. I was no fan of that player or its video quality. Every other model I've used has produced equivalent results. That's not a bad thing by any means. All have performed terrifically.
The same holds true of the BDP-83, which test patterns on the 'Digital Video Essentials' Blu-ray and the included 'Spears & Munsil' Blu-ray prove will pass full 1920x1080 resolution to the screen without error or loss of detail. Those results hold true during movie watching as well. Everything looks great. Some viewers may give the OPPO player an edge over others due to its Detail and Edge Enhancement features, but (as explained earlier) I prefer to leave those off.
Where some Blu-ray players do fail, however, is the deinterlacing of 1080i content (many concert or scenery discs, for example) to 1080p. The 'Spears & Munsil' disc has test patters for 1080i deinterlacing, as does the 'HQV Benchmark' Blu-ray. I will admit that I found some of the 'Spears & Munsil' tests confusing, and had to consult one of the disc creators to help me read the results. The 'HQV' tests are a little more straightforward and easier to read. In any case, The BDP-83 passes all tests at the Auto setting, and will deinterlace 1080i video just fine. I also confirmed this by playing some 1080i-encoded Blu-rays, such as the 'A View From Space with Heavenly Music' video wallpaper program. The OPPO unit caused no jaggie or aliasing problems, as some other Blu-ray players have (including that Samsung BDP-1000).
Perhaps the single greatest differentiation in Blu-ray player performance is the area of DVD upconversion. DVD video is often plagued by poor flagging and cadence errors that wreak havoc during progressive scan deinterlacing or scaling to high definition resolutions. Straightforward film-based movie content often upconverts easily enough, but video-based and mixed-source content can be a real challenge for DVD and Blu-ray players. This may or may not be considered a major concern for some viewers, depending on the type of content each typically watches. Someone who only watches well-authored blockbuster movies from the major Hollywood studios may not encounter many issues with DVD upconversion. On the other hand, someone with eclectic taste in concert videos, documentaries, old TV shows, or anime will need the best possible upconversion.
Fortunately, the Anchor Bay VRS chip used in the BDP-83 is one of the best deinterlacing and scaling engines on the market. The player breezed through all the tests on the standard-def versions of the 'HQV' and 'Spears & Munsil' programs. It also survived a barrage of real world DVD content that I threw at it. Among these were some particularly difficult anime torture tests, and some problematic (Region 0) PAL movies. OPPO's Blu-ray player is the equal of their earlier DV-983H flagship for DVD playback, and has the best standard-def upconversion of any Blu-ray player I've used.
That's not to say that there are no other Blu-ray players that have good DVD upconversion. Models with HQV's Reon or Realta processing should be equivalent. The Qdeo processing in the LG BH200 is also very close in quality. Nonetheless, it's safe to say that the BDP-83 is in elite company in this regard.
I did run into one problem with DVD playback, however. On a copy of the 'Monsters, Inc.' DVD, I found the player to seriously exaggerate macroblocking artifacts when set to 1080p output. The issue went away at Source Direct 480i resolution. Further testing revealed that the artifacting is tied the combination of upconversion with the YCbCr color space settings (either 4:4:4 or 4:2:2). It does not happen with RGB color space. This was only apparent on selected DVDs, and not on Blu-ray discs at all. I reported the problem to OPPO Digital. My contact at the company was able to duplicate the results, and believes that they have found the source of the problem. The company is already at work on a new firmware update that they expect will correct the fault soon. In the meantime, viewers experiencing this issue are advised to select RGB color space until the new firmware is released.
The Bottom Line: Is It Worth It?
After all the hype and anticipation, is the OPPO BDP-83 the best Blu-ray player on the market? In my opinion, it certainly belongs at the top of that list. The unit has excellent Blu-ray quality, world class DVD upconversion, extremely fast boot-up and loading times, and universal compatibility with the audiophile SACD and DVD-Audio music formats.
What doesn't it do? The player is not region-free for either DVD or Blu-ray (as some OPPO fans may have expected it to be). It has no internet streaming from Netflix, Amazon, or any other comparable movie services, if that's a requirement. And it will not play video games like the PS3 does. Other than that, its performance in the core Blu-ray and DVD playback areas is second-to-none.
The only faults I found in the machine were a minor nuisance involving the transition times between HD and SD content on the same disc (which is far from a deal-breaker by any means), and a problem with artifacting on some selected DVD titles when using the YCbCr color space. The latter issue should be fixed soon, and can be avoided by switching to RGB in the meantime.
At $499, the OPPO BDP-83 is a high-end Blu-ray player comparable to the much more expensive flagship models from premium labels. I can think of almost no reason to spend more money on any other player. Audiophile users who require their disc players to perform decoding and Digital-to-Analog conversion internally may possibly find another model with a more sophisticated D-to-A section, which could conceivably offer improvement there. However, anyone wishing to perform these tasks in the A/V receiver should use an HDMI connection and set their disc player to "Bitstream" for audio. Any and all HDMI 1.3 equipped players will be identical for that task.
At the other end of the spectrum, the BDP-83 may be overkill for viewers looking for an inexpensive entry to the world of Blu-ray. I can't deny that there are less expensive models that may sacrifice in an area or two, but otherwise provide a very good Blu-ray experience. In the end, each viewer must decide for him- or herself which features are most important and how much he or she is willing to spend.
Personally, I consider the OPPO BDP-83 to be the best standalone Blu-ray player I've yet used. OPPO Digital's first Blu-ray model lives up to the company's reputation for quality. I have been testing the BDP-83 for several weeks, and plan to make it the new reference player in my home theater system.
Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.
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