PLAYBACK 22: Oppo Digital BDP-83 Blu-ray/Universal Player

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OPPO BDP-83
PLAYBACK 22: Oppo Digital BDP-83 Blu-ray/Universal Player

Home theater enthusiasts have long dreamed of owning disc players that could handle virtually every type of material one might want to play—movies in either DVD or Blu-ray format, CDs, and even specialty audio discs in formats such as SACD, DVD-Audio and HDCD. What’s needed, of course, is a combination Blu-ray/universal player, but building one is something easier said than done—in part because the technical requirements of the various disc types vary considerably. But despite the technical challenges involved, a Blu-ray/universal player is precisely what Oppo Digital set out to create in its new BDP-83. And now that we’ve lived with Oppo’s new brainchild for the past few months, we’re pleased to report that it is quite possibly the most universal “universal player” of them all.

Few products have been more eagerly anticipated than the BDP-83, and it’s easy to understand why. First, few disc players at any price offer the format versatility the Oppo does (at present, we know of only one other player offering similar functionality, and it is a Denon model priced at $4500), whereas the BDP-83 sells for a much more manageable $499. But second, and perhaps more importantly, Oppo enjoys a reputation for building “giant killers”—players whose video and audio quality far exceed most customers’ expectations given their modest prices. As you’ll learn in a moment, Oppo has pushed the performance/dollar ratio envelope further than ever before with the BDP-83, so that the player establishes a new benchmark in terms of value for money.

OVERVIEW

Consider this Blu-ray player if: you want an exceptionally versatile and affordable player that taps the full video and audio capabilities of the Blu-ray format, that provides a strong onboard video processor for playing (and upscaling) DVDs, and that beautifully handles CD, HDCD, SACD, and DVD-Audio discs, consistently delivering a rich, smooth, natural sound.

Look Further if: you were hoping for a low-cost player that could magically trump the sound quality of great audio players in the $2k-4k range; Oppo’s BDP-83 is plenty good, but not that good. But consider this: the BDP-83’s video performance is essentially faultless, while its sound quality surpasses (by a wide margin) anything else I’ve heard at or near its price.

Ratings (relative to comparably priced Blu-ray/universal players)

  • Video Quality DVD: 10
  • Video Quality Blu-ray: 10
  • Audio Quality: 9+ (no other player in this price range offers this level of flexibility)
  • Features: 10
  • User Interface: 9
  • Value: 10

FEATURES

Media Formats:

  • Blu-ray Disc with BonusVIEW and BD Live support (includes 1GB of onboard memory).
  • DVD-Video/Video.
  • DVD-Audio.
  • SACD.
  • CD.
  • HDCD.
  • Kodak Picture CD
  • AVCHD, MKV and other file formats from discs or USB drives.

Video:

  • Anchor Bay Video Reference Series video processing technology.
  • Scaling options: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and up to 1080p at 50Hz or 60z.
  • 24p video options: for users with 24p-compatible displays. Oppo says the BDP-83 supports 24p (movie frame rate) output from Blu-ray discs and from “well-mastered DVDs.”
  • Source Direct mode outputs audio and video content as read, with no processing of any kind (intended for use with external video processors/scalers).
  • Multiple Zoom modes: provides “multiple levels of aspect ratio control and image zooming, including a vertical stretch mode for customers with a 2.35:1 CIH (Constant Image Height) display system.”
  • HDMI v1.3 digital video and audio outputs with 30-bit and 36-bit Deep Color support.

Audio Features:

  • Onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD with analog and bitstream outputs and (optional) conversion to LPCM.
  • Onboard decoding for DTS-HD Master Audio with analog and bitstream outputs.
  • SACD digital audio output either as DSD bitstream or in LPCM format.
  • 7.1/5.1-channel analog audio outputs.
  • Dedicated stereo outputs.
  • Coaxial and optical digital audio outputs.

Other:

  • Two USB 2.0 ports (one front, one rear).
  • NTSC/PAL conversion (subject to DVD and BD region restrictions).
  • Provides IR In/Out ports.
  • HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) compatible.
  • Universal voltage power supply.
  • Back-lit remote control.
  • Accessories include 6-foot HDMI cable and a copy of the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition disk.
  • (Optional) IR External Sensor Kit ($20).
  • (Optional) RS-232 Wired Control ($89).
  • (Optional) Wireless Bridge Kit ($79).

COMPARING OPPO'S BDP-83 AND DV-983H UNIVERSAL PLAYERS:

Oppo’s critically-acclaimed but DV-983H (which was not Blu-ray-capable) was the direct forerunner to the BDP-83, which effectively replaces it. In designing the BDP-83, Oppo made the following improvements to the already good audio section of the DV-983H:

  • A more substantial power supply.
  • Isolated analog outputs.
  • Separate/dedicated sets of multichannel and stereo analog outputs.
  • Dedicated DACs and op amps for analog output channels.
  • Slightly higher than normal voltage [2.3V] maximum analog output levels (Oppo says many audiophiles perceive that 2.3V maximum outputs sound better than more common 2.0V maximum outputs).

 

USER INTERFACE:

The BDP-83 has a highly intuitive user interface that, on initial start-up, presents an Easy Setup Wizard to walk first timers through basic setup procedures (though experienced users can bypass the wizard to access a more advanced menu).

Once basic setup is complete, or whenever you press the Setup button on the Oppo remote, a menu opens up with seven clearly labeled options: Playback Setup, Video Setup, Audio Format Setup, Audio Processing, Device Setup, Network Setup, and Exit.  Veteran users should be pleased by the comprehensiveness of Oppo’s suite of menu options.  As one small example of Oppo’s thoroughness, the BDP-83 lets you decide whether SACD digital audio outputs via HDMI should be presented in their native DSD bitstream format or converted to PCM format—the sort of option that not many affordable universal players would provide.

Oppo’s user interface is reasonably intuitive, but can seem daunting because of its depth and thoroughness.  Bear in mind that the BDP-83 provides control choices in places where other players don’t even have places. I found the BDP-83 interface clearer and better labeled than the already good menu GUIs provided in earlier generation Oppos, and it is backed by a well written user manual.  In keeping with longstanding Oppo practice the BDP-83’s menu system allows you to make adjustments on the fly (whereas many players force you to stop playback before allowing access to menu-driven changes). Oppo’s approach lets you see and hear the effects of your intended changes in real time.

 

REMOTE CONTROL:

The BDP-83’s remote is backlit—a first for any Oppo player—with soft orange control button lights. Buttons illuminate whenever any control is pressed, but there is also a backup light switch.

Unlike most competing players, the Oppo provides variable analog outputs that can be controlled from the remote. This means that—in a pinch—you could actually run the BDP-83 directly into a power amplifier (though for best sonic results I would recommend running the volume control full up, and then adjusting volume levels via an A/V controller, AVR, integrated amplifier, or preamp).

Another somewhat surprising touch (though one seen quite often on high-performance AVRs and A/V controllers) is a Pure Audio button, which shuts down the player’s video circuitry to improve overall sound quality. Finally, the Oppo remote provides a Resolution button that lets you toggle through the player’s many upscaling/down-conversion options.

 

VIDEO PERFORMANCE:

The BDP-83 provides a broad set of Picture Setting controls, including Brightness, Contrast, Hue (Analog), Saturation, Detail Enhancement, Edge Enhancement, Noise Reduction, Y/C Delay, and Border Level. While diehard videophiles typically caution against using any video “enhancements” at all, I found that the Oppo’s enhancement options—if used with discretion—seemed subtler and more usable than most, so that you might find them beneficial on certain disc.

DVD

In keeping with standard Playback practice, I used the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD to test the BDP-83’s DVD playback capabilities, and—much like Oppo’s earlier DV-983H universal player—the BDP-83 aced every single test on the disc, including the often-difficult jaggies, film detail, and cadence tests. In practice, the BDP-83 equals or surpasses the DVD performance of any player I’ve yet tested, regardless of price.

Blu-ray

I tested the BDP-83 with the supplied Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition disk and found the player’s performance was excellent. On the Spears & Munsil demonstration materials picture quality was breathtaking—giving a noticeably smoother and more film-like presentation than I’ve observed from other Blu-ray players. Many Blu-ray players produce images that appear extremely sharp at first glance, but that seem to have an unnatural and subtly “edge-enhanced” quality when you take a closer look.  But not so the Oppo; it produces images that have are smooth, naturally sharp, and three-dimensional—never looking artificially processed. This may be due to the Oppo’s superior ability to eliminate problems with jaggies—a capability the player demonstrated on the demanding Spears & Munsil jaggies tests.

One small Blu-ray anomaly I noted, though, is that when the Oppo is set for 1080i output (as you might do if you own an earlier generation HDTV), its performance on certain test patterns falls off a bit. For example, at 1080i resolution I noted some moiré flicker on the familiar test sequence where a camera pans to follow a racecar passing in front of empty grandstand seats. You might well ask if this isn’t a problem with the display rather than the player, and perhaps it is. However, when I tried the same racecar sequence using a benchmark DVD up-scaled for 1080i output, the moiré flickers went away. Nevertheless, on actual Blu-ray movie material the Oppo looked great at 1080i.

To summarize, the BDP-83 equals or betters the video performance of any Blu-ray player I’ve tested thus far.

 

SONIC CHARACTER:

Early on, I discovered the fundamental character of the BDP-83’s sound is markedly different from that of earlier Oppo players. In the past, Oppo players have been characterized by their slightly cooler-than-neutral tonal balance and an emphasis on definition and clarity. The BDP-83, however, introduces a noticeably warmer, fuller, and richer sound—one that reminds me in some respect of the sound of some of the expensive, high-end audio-only players I've tested. In contrast to the somewhat cool, lightly-balanced sound of earlier Oppos, the BDP-83 serves up full-bodied bass, luminous and well-defined midrange frequencies, and sweet highs free of edginess and glare.

Diehard audiophiles are bound to ask, “But how good is the Oppo in an absolute sense?” Let me try to answer that question by saying that I think the Oppo could hold its own in comparison with many of the $1000 “audiophile-grade” CD players I’ve heard and could perhaps compete even further up the audio food chain.

As an experiment I compared the BDP-83 to the NAD Masters Series M55 Universal Player ($1800) that Playback uses as its reference, and found that while the NAD clearly sounded better than the BDP-83, it did not beat it by large margins. Specifically, the NAD offered somewhat more refined bass, more revealing and open-sounding midrange and more transparent and focused rendering of treble details. But to add some perspective, bear in mind that the NAD, which cannot play Blu-ray discs, costs roughly 3.6 times what the Oppo does. My point: the Oppo offers exemplary sound quality at its price point and can only be outdone by substantially more expensive components.

AUDIO PERFORMANCE:

Movie Soundtracks

When watching films, many enthusiasts believe optimal sound is achieved by running digital audio connections from their players to their AVRs or A/V controllers and then having the latter handle soundtrack decoding task. However, I found the BDP-83’s onboard Dolby and DTS decoders, DACs, and analog audio section sound so good that they just might change users mind. Listening to Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack, I found the analog sound of the Oppo more than completive with the decoded sound achieved by my Rotel RSX-1550 AVR.

On Letters From Iwo Jima [Dolby TrueHD], I listened carefully to a scene where American forces launch a pre-invasion airstrike against Japanese ground forces on the island and noted several key difference between the Oppo’s sound and the decoded output of the Rotel. First, the Oppo’s upper midrange and high frequencies were slightly clearer and more open than the Rotel’s and also noticeably smoother and less edgy. The scene begins with soft, earnest conversations between officers, then moves into the chaos of the attack, and concludes with the deathly quiet of soldiers surveying the wreckage and accounting for missing comrades. The Oppo’s smooth, unexaggerated highs make the scene’s many small, textural soundtrack details integrate better and feel more realistic. Second, the Oppo’s bass sounded tighter and deeper than the Rotel’s did, giving bomb blasts greater concussive impact. Finally, the Oppo rendered dynamic contrasts more effectively than the receiver did, making loud passages seem more frightening and quiet moments more somber.

 Music CDs

To sum up the Oppo’s sound on CDs in two words, I would say it sound “soulful” and “expressive.” To explain what I mean, let me draw some examples from a well-recorded acoustic blues album I’ve enjoyed a lot of late.

Blues artist Eric Bibb’s Get Onboard [Telarc] contains a number of tracks that feature simple yet deeply moving arrangements that showcase Bibb’s rich, mellow voice. One such track is “God’s Kingdom”, which has the feel of an old spiritual. Instrumentation and vocals are simple: Bibb’s tremolo guitar; drums, tambourine, and organ played by Glen Scott, and sparse backing vocal contributed by Glen Scott and Nikki Leonti.  The simplicity of the arrangement, of course, means each sonic element is exposed and must stand on its own.

The Oppo does a great job in capturing the taut yet deep “thump” of Scott’s bass drum, the crisp “snap” of his snare drum rimshots, and the gentle sparkle of his high hats opening and closing. Bibb’s guitar sets the rhythm for the song, but his richly sculpted voice—presented front and center—carries its melody and draws most of our attention. I was impressed by the way the Oppo captured the tonal richness and almost sculptural three-dimensionality of Bibb’s voice and by the tight, focused way in which the player positioned him at the center of the soundstage (some players render Bibb’s voice more diffusely, which is much less emotionally engaging). Finally, on moments where the backing vocalists join Bibb, I noted that the Oppo presented them at equally precise stage locations, placing them to Bibb’s side and further back. One of the Oppo’s strengths is its ability to present layers of soundstage depth with precision. Perhaps the only thing missing is that elusive sense of high-frequency “air” surrounding the instruments and performers. But to get those kinds of sonic refinement, I suspect you’ll need to invest in a far more costly player.

High Resolution Music Formats

Unlike many universal players I’ve heard, the BDP-83 does an equally good job with high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD materials. What is more, the Oppo offers enough detail and definition to show you why high-res disc formats are worthwhile in the first place. Let me illustrate this point by describing the Oppo’s performance on a strikingly well recorded jazz SACD disc I’ve recently added to my rotation.

Jen Chapin’s reVisions [Chesky, SACD] offers imaginative jazz treatments of songs created by Stevie Wonder and features performances by a trio comprised Chapin, who supplies vocal, Stephen Crump on acoustic bass, and Chris Cheek, who plays saxophones. You might think it would difficult for such a minimalist ensemble to capture the multi-layered feel of Wonder’s often elaborate arrangements, but in fact the trio does a fabulous job—making the flow of Wonder’s individual musical lines stand out with unexpected power and lucidity.

Almost from the moment you hit the Play button on the Oppo with this disc sounds terrific, and there is no better example than the opening track: Wonder’s humorous yet biting “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.”On the right side of the stage, Crump jumps in with a fiery, syncopated bass line accentuated with percussive hand slaps to the body of the bass. On stage left, Cheek contributes incisive, sardonic comments carried by the deep, plunging voice of his baritone sax. At center stage, but standing a bit behind her sax and bass players, is Chapin, whose feisty and occasionally sardonic voice flirts with edginess (yet never crosses that line), delivering swooping inflections that drive home the point of a lyric with the force of a whip-crack.

The Oppo’s presentation proved impressive in several ways. First, its soundstaging was at once precise and almost shockingly holographic. The performers appear at the exact locations I’ve described, which turn out to be faithful to the recorded event (Chesky actually supplies a stage “floorplan” diagram in the liner notes, so you can compare what you’re hearing to the actual locations of the performers). Next, the timbres of the bass and sax were spot on and highly detailed. You can hear the mouthpiece action and reed of Cheek’s sax and the sheer physical size and deep, woody tonality of Crump’s bass. But the Oppo focuses our attention Chapin’s voice, presenting each vocal inflection, swoop, and point of emphasis with effortless solidity and clarity, creating the illusion that Chapin is performing from just a few feet away from us. This kind of sonic realism shows the Oppo at its best and is, quite frankly, a big part of its appeal.

BOTTOM LINE:

Oppo’s BDP-83 Blu-ray/universal player is more versatile than most other players at any price, and it offers better picture and sound quality than anything I’ve seen or heard at, or even remotely close to, its price. For these reasons, I would argue it represent the biggest bargain going in today’s home theater marketplace. Playback is adopting the Oppo as its Blu-ray reference player.  


 

SPECS & PRICING

Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Player (updated 8/6/2009)

Disc/file formats supported: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, AVCHD and MKV files via USB drives.
HDMI audio bitstream support: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital/Digital EX; DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, DTS-Digital Surround, DTS-ES; SACD via DSD bitstream or LPCM conversion, LPCM 7.1-channel, 5.1-channel and 2-channel
Onboard decoder support: As above, except that there are no onboard Dolby Digital EX or DTS-ES decoders.
Outputs 1080p at: 24Hz, 50Hz, 60Hz
Video outputs: One HDMI, one component video, one composite video
Digital audio outputs: One HDMI, two digital (one coaxial, one optical)
Analog audio outputs: one 7.1-channel analog audio, one stereo analog
Other connections: Ethernet (for firmware updates and BD-Live content), two USB ports, IR in/out, RS-232 (optional)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 3” x 16.875” x 13.25”
Weight: 11.2 lbs.
Warranty: One year, parts and labor
Price: $499

Oppo Digital, Inc.
(650) 961-1118
www.oppodigital.com 

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