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March 2007
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Oppo Digital DV971H, DV970HD and DV981HD Digital Disc Players
Oppo, Oppo, Oppo! Why Three? Why not?
Review By Steven Stone
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  Oppo makes not one, not two, but three DVD players all priced under $230. You may be wondering, just as I was when they arrived at my door, as to what the differences are, and why you would choose one over the others. Since a confused consumer buys nothing, look on this as a public service for all you thrifty Enjoy the Music.com readers who need of a super low-priced player, but have no idea which Oppo model to choose.

 

The DV971H

The $199 DV971 has been on the market for over a year. Three important features separate it from other manufacturers' DVD players priced under $200. It has a Faroudja DCDi image processing, DVI outputs, and up-samples standard definition DVDs to 540P, 576P, 720P, or 1080i. If you've been under a rock for a couple of years and have never heard of the Faroudja video processing circuit here's a quick tutorial. The Faroudja DCDi circuit analyzes video on a single pixel granularity to detect the presence or absence of angled lines and edges, which are then processed to produce a smooth natural looking image without visible artifacts called jaggies. It also uses pre-pixel motion adaptive de-interlacing and patented FilmMode processing that properly de-interlaces 3:2 and 2:2 pull down material. While some lower priced players have Faroudja processing and digital video outputs via DVI or HDMI, none offer up sampling. I've even seen $4000 and up DVD players whose HDMI output was limited to 480P. Note that it does not have HDMI and it does not upconvert via its analog video outputs. Video performance via its digital outputs is more than respectable but via analog merely average.

If you judge audio and video components by their weight, mass, and feeling of substantiality the Oppo DV971H will not get a hearty two thumbs up. Measuring less than two inches high and weighing under a single lb. this player doesn't inspire a sense of solidity. Frankly, it looks just as cheap as it is priced. The front panel display doesn't help matters any. Its cryptic comments such as "eIeLe" and "rOOe" for stop, and "LOAd" for loading, will make anxious videophiles nervous. "Is it broken?" they'll fret.

Audio controls for stereo down mix, speaker size, channel trim and subwoofer on/off make it possible to set-up the Oppo's analog outputs for most conventional speaker arrangements. Digital audio outputs can also be set for bitstream of PCM and the Oppo supports bit rates as high as 192K. The Oppo even has a built-in Dolby pro logic circuit that can convert two-channel material into derived surround. It features both music and movie modes with panorama, dimension, and center width controls to further adjust its Dolby-enhanced analog audio output.

Sonically the Oppo's digital output is on par with my older Toshiba SD-9200 and SD-3109 players. It doesn't begin to compare with the Lexicon RT-20, Meridian 598, or Meridian 800. On CD's it's dimensionally flat, musically uninvolving, and harmonically threadbare. Audiophiles will not find the DV971H's digital outputs adequate for critical music listening. DVD's sound OK, and although everything is there, the sound doesn't have quite as much dynamic acuity and spatial detail as with the Lexicon or Meridian players. Its analog audio output is even more pedestrian. Even lateral imaging is barely adequate. Audio is just not the Oppo DV971H's forte.

 

The DV970HD

Priced at only $149, the DV970HD ranks as the least expensive universal player with full HDMI 1.1 implementation. This unit differs from the DV971H in that it is a true universal player that will play SACDs and DVD-As as well as all other CD and DVD digital video and audio formats. It also offers full HDMI (rather than DVI) with audio and video capabilities. Via HDMI the 970 will output 720P, 1080i, and 480i. But unlike its predecessor, the 970 doesn't use the Faroudja video chipset. The 970 supports both 480i and 480P via its analog component output as well as 720P and 1080i with non-encrypted disks.

If you have an analog display device and scaler and want a player with universal disk-playing capabilities the 970 would be a thrifty choice. You can connect its analog component 480i output to your scaler and get a very decent result - certainly on par with other 480i analog DVD sources. Its lack of a Faroudja chipset leaves its digital video performance lacking when compared to the DV971H or the DV981HD, especially when it comes to coping with motion and pull-down conversion.

The DV970HD worked on all the DVD-A's and SACD's I threw at it but it did have some quirks. On my SACD copy of Glen Gould's Goldberg Variations the player created a short drop out between each track that shouldn't have been there. On pop recordings which do have spaces between index markers this wouldn't be a problem, but on classical recordings, especially live concerts which should not have audible spaces between the index markers, this could get old fast. Also every SACD I tried on the DV970HD could not skip ahead consistently to the next track or display the track number properly when did skip forward to another track. Broken? Maybe. When I tried to do anything besides play a SACD from beginning to end the DV970HD fought me tooth and nail.

As you might guess the DV90HD's analog output sound quality wasn't in the same league as my reference Lexicon RT-20 Universal player; but it was certainly passable. By this I mean that music sounds clean but comes across with a slightly thinner harmonic balance, a more mechanical presentation, and little depth or dimensionality. The DV970HD's noise floor was remarkably good however. Audiophiles used to listening to SACDs and DVD-A's through top echelon gear may be less than bowled over by the DV970HD's sonic performance. But anyone who hasn't experienced SACDs or DVD-As before will still be impressed by how good this player does with these higher def digital audio formats.

While SACD's and DVD-A's certainly have more musical information than standard CDs, high-resolution music sounds only slightly more emotionally involving through the DV970HD than a standard CD. Regardless of the format, the DV970HD's audio performance doesn't compare favorably to a high-end transport such as the Meridian 800, especially when it comes to less tangible audio characteristics such as pace, micro-dynamics, and dimensionality. But rather than beat up on a $149 player for not sounding as good as a $16,000 one I can't help but be delighted that the DV970HD delivers so much for so little money. For less than the price of a decent pair of interconnects you can buy a universal player with HDMI capability. Amazing.

The 970's best use would in a secondary system with a smaller analog or digital display so its video shortcomings would be less apparent. Its audio doesn't rival what's available from higher-priced universal players, but as part of a less than critical casual-listening audio system the DV970HD will acquit itself quite admirably.

 

The DV981HD

This $229 universal player is the "big dog" of the Oppo line and supports all digital formats including SACD and DVD-A. It uses the Faroudja video chipset and upscales 480i material all the way to 1080P! It does not offer 480i via its HDMI outputs however and has no analog component outputs whatsoever. On the audio side it has 192kHz 24-bit D/A converters for its analog outputs and supports both 5.1 and two-channel analog outputs.

Although I didn't try the 981's 1080P video outputs (I don't have any 1080P display devices at present), its 720P performance was on a par with the DV971H, which is to say very good indeed. On the "Video Essentials" test disk the moving zone plate upsampled to 720P performance equaled the DV971H and was almost as clean as a Lumagen HDP scaler using the DV971H's 480P outputs as its source.

Unlike its less expensive sibling my review sample DV981HD had no problems skipping forward and properly identifying track numbers afterward. All Oppo players use the same remote. It won't win any design awards, but its is far better than their dismal first-generation remote (Oppo graciously offered the new remote to early-adopter DV971H owners as a free upgrade.) It doesn't light up, but at least the shape of the remote and its layout makes it so you can learn the important button's locations fairly quickly for darkened room operation.

On the audio side the DV981HD sounded virtually identical to the DV970HD - good, but not capable jaw-dropping audiophile quality. According to Oppo the DV970HD has a simpler and more direct audio path that could result in better sound than the DV981HD, but I did not find I could detect any audible differences. Most videophiles should be reasonably content with the Oppo's audio performance on movie soundtracks, but if you intend to listen to a lot of SACD's and DVD-A's I think you're going to want to move into a higher weight class. One possible solution is via a modification package. During a 10-minute Internet search I came up with two companies offering upgrade packages for the Oppo DV981HD, referenceaudiomods.com and hotrodaudiomods.com. Both upgrades involved better audio Op amps, beefier power supplies, and chassis shielding and damping. Upgrade costs ranged from $300 to approximately $900 with several different levels of complexity. As to whether these upgrades are cost-effective, that depends on how long you intend to keep your Oppo. If you plan to hold onto your DV981HD for at least three years these mods make good economic sense. Fortunately, unlike many manufacturers, Oppo is willing to honor their warranty to the original purchaser if an established shop has modified their unit. Jason Liao, Oppo's VP of product development, told me that Oppo even furnishes repair and replacement parts to these mod sites.

 

Who Needs An Inexpensive DVD Player?

I think the Oppo DV981HD would be ideal for any audiophile whose mid-priced DVD player is beginning to get long of tooth, or a videophile who has recently upgraded from an analog display to an HDMI-equipped model. Using the DV981HD's HDMI video outputs delivers a picture that far exceeds any DVD player with only a 480i analog component output. Also if you have a newer pre/pro or receiver that supports HDMI 1.1 digital audio the DV981HD will permit you to take advantage of that digital audio transmission method as well.

Given the small differences in price between the DV971H, DV970HD, and DV981HD, I think 99 percent of Enjoy the Music.com's readers should just kick out the jams and buy the DV981HD rather than Oppo's other two models. For the extra money you get a more useful feature set, optimum video performance, and perhaps most importantly, it comes in black.

Since Blue-Ray and DVD-HD players will play standard DVD's, why not buy one of these instead of a DV981HD? Unfortunately none of these units will play SACD or DVD-A disks. Someday a manufacturer may produce a universal high-resolution digital player that can also handle SACD and DVD-As, but don't expect such a beast anytime soon. In the meantime the Oppo DV981HD would make an excellent and inexpensive ancillary player to handle SACD and DVD-A discs now and even after you migrate to a next-generation HD player. Given the current quandary over which HD format will "win" the format war, the Oppo DV981HD also makes an excellent electronic foxhole for hunkering down until the dust, mud, and slime of the current format war dissipates.

 

Manufacturer's Reply

After reading through the review, I thought it might be helpful to your readers if we could provide a few comments regarding a few items that the reviewer noted. These are just clarifications and new developments. We highly respect the reviewer's independent judgment and opinion, so the comments really are not about the review itself.

The followings are our comments. We would appreciate it very much if these can be included with or incorporated into the article:

1. In the DV971H section, the review mentioned "cryptic comments such as "eIeLe" and "rOOe" for stop, and "LOAd" for loading". These "cryptic" messages are a result of using the 7-segment numeric display on the front panel to display text status information. "tItLe" is actually "TITLE", and "rOOt" is "ROOT", indicating the player is playing the DVD title or root menu. The newer DV-981HD model uses a 16-segment alpha-numeric display and can display messages in much better fonts.

2. In the DV970HD section, the reviewer noted about an audible space between index markers when playing SACD. He also commented about the track skipping function and track number display. We have made improvements to address these issues, and the improvements are released to users as firmware updates. The firmware updates are provided on our web site www.oppodigital.com and users can easily download and install the updates. We also mail firmware CD to customers upon request. Firmware updates make it possible for our users to obtain new features and improvements without purchasing a new product model. We see this as a major difference between OPPO and other consumer electronics manufacturer - we listen to customer feedback and always try to make improvement to existing products whenever possible, while another manufacturer may just release a new model and leave existing customers in the cold.

3. In the same DV970HD section, the reviewer mentioned that the DV-970HD is a very decent 480i source if the user has an analog display and scaler. In addition to this, the DV-970HD is also a great 480i source for digital video scalers. Its unique ability to output unprocessed 480i video over HDMI makes it an economical and high quality digital video source. Users with an HDMI-equipped scaler can get the same picture quality without spending the money to get an SDI-modified DVD player in order to have a pure digital 480i source.

Thank you very much!

Jason Liao
OPPO Digital, Inc.

 

Specifications

Type: Digital disc player, see Oppo Digital's website for complete specifications of each unit.

Price:

DV970H: $149

DV971: $199

DV981HD: $229

 

Company Information

Oppo Digital, Inc 
2629 Terminal Blvd. Suite B
Mountain View, CA 94043

Voice: (650) 961-1118
Fax: (650) 961-1119
E-mail: service@oppodigital.com
Website: www.oppodigital.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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