Oppo Digital DV-983H Universal Player

Multi-format disc players
Oppo Digital DV-983H Universal Player

Playback and its sister magazine The Absolute Sound have reviewed a number of Oppo universal players over the years, all of them offering great performance per dollar, some of them winning awards, and most priced at or below the low $200 range. But now, we come to the $395 DV-983H, which is Oppo’s flagship model. Is it something special? You’d better believe it is, both in terms of excellent video and audio performance, as well as overall versatility. As you’ll discover in a moment, this industrial strength Oppo is a killer video player, one of the best music-oriented players in its class, and one heckuva good deal.

Key Features

  • HDMI upscaling options: 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p.
  • Component video upscaling options: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p
  • 7.1-channel analog audio outputs
  • HDCD disc decoding: HDCD is a better-than- CD-quality disc format that can play on normal CD players, but that requires a dedicated HDCD decoder for optimal performance. The Oppo DV-983H is the only player in our survey to provide an HDCD decoder. Note: A surprising number of “conventional” CDs in fact use HDCD encoding, even though they do not carry HDCD markings, and the Oppo, of course, makes them sound better, too.
  • Variable analog audio outputs with volume control
  • USB 2.0 connection: Allows player to access and play material stored on USB flash/memory cards or other “mass storage devices”
  • Video Processing: VRS (Video Reference Series) processor from Anchor Bay Technologies.
  • PAL (European format) < - to- > NTSC conversion

User Interface

The DV-983H provides one of the best user interfaces we’ve ever seen on any universal player, and the remote is quite cleverly designed, as well. Highlights include:

  • Analog audio setup support for both 5.1 and 7.1-channel systems.
  • Analog audio channel trimmers that provide a full +/- 10dB range of adjustment.
  • Audio as well as (some) video settings that can be adjusted “on-the-fly;” that is, while disc are playing—a feature few players at any price provide.
  • An OSD (onscreen display) button on the remote allows users to access a wide range of information on discs being played, including the album and track titles for SACD discs.
  • An Audio Only button turns off video circuitry to minimize noise.
  • A P/N button allows PAL/NTSC switching from the remote control.
  • Direct DVD/USB input switching from the remote control.
  • A volume control on the remote regulates levels from the DV-983H’s analog audio outputs, meaning the player can be connected directly to self-powered speakers to create cost-effective, minimalist systems.

Although the DV-983H remote control is not illuminated, it does provide luminous, glow-in-the-dark control buttons, which is the next best thing. About the only thing things the user interface lacks are channel-level test tones, and variable crossover frequencies for subwoofers (both are features some of the best players in this class provide).

Video Performance

Let me cut straight to the chase. On our benchmark tests, conducted using the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD Ver. 4, Oppo’s DV-983H passed every single test on the disc with essentially letter perfect results. You read that right; there are no video performance quibbles or caveats to discuss here, because the Oppo “aced” every test we threw at it. The Oppo’s performance would do credit to a player several times its price, and it’s a stunning achievement for one selling for under $400.

Real world DVD tests further confirmed that the DV-983H is one outstanding DVD player—hands down the top video performer in our survey. With the player’s upscaling controls set for 1080i output, I watched movie after movie, mesmerized by the DV-983H’s smooth, film-like presentation and exceptionally good resolution and detail.

In the “Cool As Water” scene from House of Flying Daggers, the protagonists Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Xiao Mei (Ziyi Zhang) don garments whose surfaces reveal rich colors and intricate, brocade-like textures—colors and textures that most players tend to soften to some degree. But not so, the Oppo; it captured the fine, inner details in the surfaces of those fabrics and presented them with the sort of precision and clarity you’d expect from a topographic relief map. Everywhere I looked the player seemed to find new details or shades of coloring to reveal, consistently making images look richer, more three-dimensional and more finely detailed.

It is no exaggeration to say that the DV-983H will tempt you to fall in love with well filmed tight close ups, because it makes facial details and expressions fairly jump off the screen. A particular scene in Gandhi floored me with images of an emaciated and fasting Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) explaining to his follower Meerabahen (Geraldine James) why he believes good will always triumph over evil in the end. The Oppo caught the gritty textures of the stubble in Gandhi’s beard, and the combination of determination and profound sorrow in his eyes. At the same time, the player also caught the softer textures of Meerabahen’s face and the fine wisps of her hair protruding from beneath her shawl as she leaned forward to listen to Gandhi’s words. The point, I think, is that when onscreen image details get this good, films can move us in deeper and more intimate ways.

More so than most players, the DV-983H shows how a good upscaling player can give DVDs a new lease on life—not quite elevating them to the level of Blu-ray discs, of course, but making them look better than we might ever have thought possible.

Audio Performance/Sonic Character

The Oppo is also one of the two or three best sounding players in our survey thanks to its uncanny combination of resolution, rich tonal colors, and overarching three-dimensionality. While some might find the player’s tonal balance exhibits faint traces of brightness (at least for CD playback), the richness of the player’s tonal colors tends to offset any tendency toward an edgy or “cold” sound. And, as you shift toward higher resolution DVD-Audio and SACD material, the player sounds even better—most notably by producing huge, wide-open, holographic soundstages.

Finally, the Oppo stands as a sonic “gift that keeps on giving,” because it can decode HDCD discs. You may be surprised to discover that certain ostensibly “standard” CDs have, in fact, been HDCD encoded, and once you hear the heightened resolution that HDCD encoding offers, you’ll appreciate the Oppo’s decoding capabilities even more.

Musical Examples

As I played the track “Timeless” from Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie’s Three Guitars [Telarc, multichannel SACD], I sat back and marveled at the huge sound the Oppo produced. On the track I’ve referenced, Coryell is seated at the left, Abercrombie on the right, and Assad in the center of a wide stage. As the song unfolds, the instrumentalists take turns soloing while their compatriots contribute atmospheric textures and phrases. The effect is not unlike finding yourself seated front row, center seat, at a magical concert performed just for you. While all of the players in this survey sounded good on this track, the Oppo helped it expand to fill a huge, yet quite believable, 3D space that I personally found enchanting.

Similarly, the Oppo sounded remarkably detailed and spacious on the Goodwin/Minnesota performance of Tavener’s Icons of Eros from the Reference Recordings 30th Anniversary Sampler disc—an HDCD-encoded recording. The piece is an unusual one, juxtaposing angular string passages with a rhythmic percussion motif that builds in intensity until it climaxes with a choral shout that seems to reverberate forever in the cathedral-like recording space. The DV-983H did an unexpectedly fine job of conveying the sense of “air” in the recording, letting you feel as much as hear the acoustics of the space.

In many ways the Oppo sounds more like a pricey high-end player than it does a unit priced under $400. True, this mean the player sometimes exposes the flaws in so-so recordings, but that’s a tradeoff that—in the Oppo’s case—we can live with (remember, the DV-983H isn’t so much “unforgiving” as it is honest).

Bottom Line

Oppo’s flagship DV-983H is, by any standard, an outstanding DVD player, and a very fine audio player, too. If you’d like to get a good, big taste of what pricey high-end players are like, yet without breaking the bank, look no further. Oh, and did we mention that the Oppo even comes with a free HDMI cable? Cool, no?

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