May Midmonth Update 2009
"Welcome to the June edition of our tome for the insatiable tweak. I'm writing about the OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray disc player (review) here at the end of April in between trying to clean up the yard from major tree damage from last winter's ice storm, and reading through the navigation system guide for my new car, a Ford Fusion. This car manual beats just about any I've seen from the audiophile world for obtuseness and difficulty of interpretation. No wonder American car-makers are going down the tubes. The one for my last car, a Nissan Infiniti M35 was much clearer in syntax even though it came from a Japanese manufacturer.
The same thing is occurring in the high-end audio field. The foreign companies have taken American derived technology and are running with it, producing equipment like the OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray disc player that would put most of the American products to shame and for a price hard to beat. Others are mixing and matching; engineering product in the USA and then farming out the manufacturing to other countries, such as China. This allows the best of both worlds, American smarts with foreign low expense and for the most part quality manufacturing, something we used to be known for.
One such producer is OPPO as they have come up with a business model of American design, foreign production and direct sales in the United States, cutting out middle men and reducing costs. Their product line has consisted of three DVD players and an HDMI 3x1 switch at very reasonable prices for their quality, and they will even guarantee extended warranties for only about 10 percent of the list price of the product. While I haven't previously had the chance to evaluate any of their products in my system, they have been held in high esteem by members of the AVS Forum and the buzz on their newest product has been phenomenal.
For the first time in recorded history, we have a piece of audio-video equipment which actually does far more than advertised by the company. I am speaking of the
OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player
Unhappily for me and possibly you, your esteemed reviewer was not one of the chosen few. I petitioned them a few months ago to be one of the early testers but I think my reviewer status scared them away, as one bad review can really damage early sales. I probably should be bitter about that fact, but I can understand their reluctance. Also, I received this unit late February and had most of this article completed by mid March, but they begged that it not be published until now so that it would coincide with the release date to the general public of the unit.
Happily for me, and hopefully you, they finally felt the product was ready for prime time and sent one out to yours truly. And I must say, it's been worth the wait. Why? Because until now, I've needed three different units to play all of the various types of digital discs available. My Esoteric DV-60 will do SACD, DVD and DVD-Audio but not Blu-ray or HD-DVD. The Samsung BD-UP5000 will do the Blu-ray and HD-DVD but not SACD, DVD-Audio or Blu-ray audio discs, and my home theater computer does all, but only at a maximum of 48 kHz., and with many flaws in the software requiring constant fiddling.
As this is a pre-production model with the software still having some quirks, please look at this as a preliminary report on a very exciting product for audiophiles. A follow-up will be forthcoming once they finalize the software.
So what's so special about the BDP-83? First, for the first time in recorded history, we have a piece of audio-video equipment which actually does far more than advertised by the company. They only list it as a Blu-ray player, but in fact, it's the very first player on the market that can be called "Truly Universal" to present standards. I say present, as the only failing I've found so far is the inability to play HD-DVD discs, the high definition DVD standard that bit the dust last January. This would require another laser which would make for considerable difficulty and cost. This is understandable as it's a defunct standard with no further discs or players being produced, but the inclusion of the software and extra laser would be a great boon for those with large collections and would certainly make the unit the first to do all previous and present 5 inch disc standards.
Not only will it play Blu-ray, even BD –R/RE discs and standard video DVD's, but will also recognize and play the following:
Let us look at the unit itself. Unpacking the unit gave some surprises. While not as hefty as my Esoteric DV-60 Super DVD/SACD player, it weighs significantly more than the three other Blu-ray players I've had here. Packaging is excellent, being double-boxed and wrapped in its own black cloth bag. It even includes a superb Blu-ray test pattern disc for setup, which would cost about $25 if bought separately.
The front panel is thick, black anodized aluminum uncluttered by any except the most important controls, with a centralized disc drawer and screen, which can be left on or automatically turned off by the remote control to darken the room.
The rear has 7.1 and 2.0 gold plated analog RCA jacks for internal decoding, optical and coax digital audio outputs, S-Video, composite and component analog video outputs, a true HDMI 1.3a audio-video output, Ethernet and USB 2.0 jacks, infrared in and out jacks for remote control with home systems, and a 2 prong IEC AC input. There is also a small fan on the back to control internal temperatures which could not be heard from a foot away. There are four nondescript feet which could easily be elevated out of the way by decent feet. (Hint: See last month's article.)
The remote is well thought out and even has a button to light up all other buttons. Other important buttons for us include the ability to shut off all video transmission through the HDMI output for cleaner audio reproduction, an audio button to quickly run through the different audio codecs on the disc without having to go into the menu, and a mute button.
Setup is a snap, thanks to a well thought out ( and in perfect English compared to many other products from places unknown) owner's manual, and the ability to download the latest iteration of it from the web. When the unit is first turned on there is an Easy Setup Wizard which guides one through the important settings. The last step is setting the audio for either allowing the unit to work with all equipment in its compatible configuration or allowing all signal types to be transferred to a pre-pro in its advanced setting. In advanced, it allows up to 24-bit/192kHz at 7.1 channel digital pass-through, but it does then cut off any secondary audio channels.
Once the preliminary setup is done, one can enter the Setup Mode for fine tuning the unit. Audio Format allows one to choose between Bitstream for complete external decoding by your pre-pro, or LPCM for internal of the Dolby and DTS bitstreams. One can set up SACD to play back the various layers of the disc, and decide on whether to let the unit convert the signal to analog out through the 7.1 or 2.0 RCA jacks, or 88.2 kHz. PCM or DSD bitstream out to the pre-pro through the HDMI output for decoding by the pre-pro.
Speaker Configuration allows one to input the speaker types and number, set them for full range or small, their distance, and trim their relative volumes.
Firmware updating is a snap if one has an Ethernet connection as the unit automatically senses the network, sets itself up with the proper codes and will automatically download the updates if there is no disc playing. In the two months I've had the unit the software has been updated thrice. This has been a snap through my Ethernet connection to the web with the only minor problem being the necessity to repeat the setup of the unit each time. So theoretically the unit is future-proof as long as the manufacturers stick to the Blu-ray standards envisioned to this point.
On the video side, to get the less important features for audiophiles out of the way, the unit uses the Video Reference System by Anchor Bay, one of the two best out there for artifact-free video. It will do up to 1080P output at 50 or 60 FPS. and will also output 24 FPS film standard pictures, and even supports 36 bit Deep Color, which is still not available on Blu-ray discs. It is also one of the few units that totally supports the BD-Live, Profile 2.0 standard with its built-in 1 GB memory. It also has the ability to play back both NTSC and PAL discs on either type of television for those of us who get PAL type concert discs from Europe and Japan. I know of no other unit at close to its price range that will do all of this for Blu-ray.
Video quality is excellent with superb color. One can even correct all video parameters through a setting screen, except for Gamma. 1080P 24FPS movies, especially those from Blu-ray discs from IMEX films give the best video reproduction I've seen in my system compared to my four other high definition sources. Standard DVD decoding and upsampling is at least on a par with the best Blu-ray units I've seen.
Now to the important side of the equation. While Sony and every other major manufacturer have abandoned SACD and DVD-A, this unit will transfer and decode both, with SACD being able to be transmitted in either the original DSD form, or decode them internally to 88.2 KHz multi-channel PCM, or decode to analog for output on 7.1 analog RCA jacks. With my Integra 9.8 pre-pro, when one transmits the DSD signal, it appears that the unit decodes it to 44.1 kHz, but in actuality it is doing DSD to analog decoding but presenting it as a PCM conversion because 44.1 kHz is actually a divisible number for the SACD 2.2 MHz rate.
Interestingly, I preferred the internal decoding of the SACD to analog by the OPPO unit as the bass seemed a little more robust and tight and there seemed to be a little more of that "you are there" feeling to the music. Allowing the Integra to do the DSD decoding to PCM slightly decreased the above.
The 7.1 analog outputs on my still not completely broken in unit is excellent, matching the sound I've been getting from my $6000 list Esoteric DV-60 DVD/SACD player. Although I could not do instant evaluation of both, having only one multi-channel input on my pre-pro, the OPPO and Esoteric units were so close as to be indistinguishable to me. Interestingly, stereo CDs played through the 2.0 analog outputs allowed more ambiance information to come through than the 7.1 outputs. It turns out that the unit has separate DACs for the 2.0 and multi-channel analog outputs. Who says that all DACs sound alike?
The most amazing attribute of this unit is its ability to transmit full 24-bit/192kHz7.1 channel bitstreams from both video and audio Blu-ray discs to my Integra pre-pro for decoding. My Samsung player and my home theater computer downsample them to 48 kHz. before transmission, and the difference in audio "you are there" feel is significant. An especially good discs to evaluate this is Trondheim Solisten Divertimenti (reviewed here). The box contains both an SACD and a Blu-ray copy of the music, with the Blu-ray having tracks of 24-bit/192kHz PCM, DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD encoding in both surround and stereo. Using my Samsung BDP-UP5000 to the Integra, the 24-bit/192kHz signals were downsampled to 24-bit/48kHz and I had previously thought that it was the pre-pro that was the problem. Now I know that my pre-pro can receive the full 24-bit/192kHzsurround encoding and decode it, and I find these now so close to the SACD original as to be impossible to differentiate on my system.
Now for the most unbelievable part! The probable list price is going to be below $500, 9 times less than the only other Universal player coming out in the near future, the Denon A1-UDCI. I hope to get one in for evaluation to see if the major price difference brings any value compared the OPPO. "Such A Steal" for those of us with an HDMI 1.3a pre-pro. More in the future.
Now a few words from OPPO Digital:
Dr. Bill Gaw,
This is a great review with a lot of details. Many thanks! At this time we do not have comments to add for publication.