Notice: This review was originally written for the planned release of the Oppo BDP-83 in Europe. However, Oppo have indefinitely postponed the release of the player. This review now serves as a description of the American model, which is identical in all aspects apart from styling and Region Coding. The review has been amended as necessary.
When they first appeared in 2005, Oppo Digital quickly found favour with AV enthusiasts thanks largely to the level of respect they offered their customers. The new company proved highly responsive to feedback and bug reports from established video experts and later, end users. Together with their customers, the company turned its first DVD product into an outstanding bargain.
Years later, and little has changed. Moving on from their DV-983H DVD player (one of few machines capable of delivering basically perfect results even from the most obscurely engineered NTSC discs), Oppo brings us the BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc player, which takes the same DVD functionality but adds Blu-ray Disc playback into the mix.
That's not all, though: as a so-called Universal Player, the BDP-83 can also play DVD-Audio and Super Audio CDs, and output the latter format's contents in the native DSD codec, which will please those with DSD-capable amplifiers and large SACD collections. With the inherent similarity in the AV quality from the digital outputs of BD players, can the BDP-83 really set itself apart from the crowd? Let's find out.
If you've ever owned an Oppo DVD player in the past, you'll know roughly what to expect from their first BD machine. It's almost twice as tall as their lightweight DV-980H DVD player and is a little longer at the back, but is still styled in black. The front of the player is styled in familiar Oppo "brushed steel", which looks suitably high-end. The disc tray, however, is gloss black. As with certain Oppo DVD players, there's also a navigation control on the front of the unit, should you ever lose the remote.
On the back, you'll notice that all important connectivity bases are covered. There's the HDMI A/V output, which I used for testing, and a LAN port (this machine is, after all, fully Profile 2.0 compliant, so you can access web-enabled features on select discs – if you want to). There are analogue Component video outputs, analogue Stereo audio outputs, and, less commonly, 7.1 analogue surround sound outputs. These allow owners of older AV receivers to enjoy High Definition audio, without having to listen to down-converted standard def audio to satisfy the limitations of older digital audio interfaces. Of course, the machine does have Optical and Coaxial outputs for SD audio, should you wish to use those.
Oppo's remote control design breaks away from what they've been including with their SD DVD players over the last couple of years: their BD remote is chunkier and has buttons which are easier to differentiate by touch. The "ENTER" button has two tactile dots on it, which really eases use. It's also back-lit, which will please anyone who's ever knocked over their table of snacks trying to find a remote control in a darkened home theatre environment. All of the buttons feel nice and "squishy", too: nothing rattly or clicky.
Also included with the BDP-83 are two test discs: the Spears & Munsil BD Calibration and Test Disc, which is absolutely excellent, and also the AIX Records Blu-ray HD sampler & audio calibration disc. The former disc especially is an invaluable resource for getting the most from any system.
Whilst Oppo's DVD players used the fairly generic, default Mediatek chipset menu design (and thus had menus that looked incredibly similar to some supermarket bargain-bin machines), the BDP-83 features graphics fit for the 21st century. The menus are sleek and entirely functional, and respond quickly to user input.
Like the Oppo DVD players, pressing SETUP brings up the relevant menu screen, even if a disc is playing (you don't have to leave playback mode to alter the settings). This responsiveness is great for comparing the effects of different options on your system, and makes any changes in settings much easier to detect. Not only this, but it's a breath of fresh air compared to many other machines which force the user to make a slow round-trip to an isolated, "out of movie" setup menu, and back again.
These menu screens give access to settings such as TV Aspect Ratio, TV system (refresh rate), Output resolution, 24p Output, DVD 24p conversion, and other video tweaks which I'll cover in depth in just a second.
The Audio Format menu is much the same: most notably, we can choose to enable or disable the Secondary Audio mixer (required if you want to output Bitstream audio in high definition), and an option to choose whether Super Audio CDs are converted to PCM by the player, or output in Bistream (DSD codec) mode. There's also an Audio Processing screen to configure the speaker sizes and distances for the analogue audio outputs, a miscellaneous "Device Setup" screen, and a Network Setup page.
Most Blu-ray Discs are encoded at 1080p/24 using either AVC or VC-1, and contain a video signal that, once decoded to the 4:2:2 colour space, is a perfect match for what our modern 1080p/24 displays expect. As a result, the output quality of properly configured, properly working BD players will be all but identical to one another with this type of content (and by "properly working", I mean "not messing around with what's stored on the disc"). Manufacturers inevitably come up with ways to stand out from the crowd, of course: Panasonic have a Chroma Upsampling feature which promises to resolve fine colour details more closely to the filmmakers' wishes, and Sony's high end BDP-S5000ES machine features a novel process which smooths coarse gradations, but these are credible – and fairly subtle - attempts to improve upon a very high quality source.
Oppo's player includes a dedicated "hands off" mode: if you choose the "Source Direct" option in the player's Resolution menu, then what you see on your TV is the output of the player's video decoder, with the Anchor Bay VRS video processing chip bypassed. That does mean that you'll lose the scaling and deinterlacing functions of the VRS chip (which are nice things to have for playing back DVD titles and 1080i BDs), but given that most Blu-ray Discs don't require either of these processes when going out to a 1080p display, the "Source Direct" mode is valuable for those of us who balk at the idea of the player interfering in any way and want ultimate peace of mind.
At all other times, though, the VRS chip is active, and should the user wish, they can engage video processing with any content (be it from SD DVD or BD). Again, I recommend leaving all of the video alterations off for BD playback, but in special cases they can be useful - say, if your display or a specific video transfer is especially lacking. Here's a rundown of each:
Firstly, we have Brightness and Contrast controls. I didn't have to adjust these from their out of the box settings, and such controls are best made on the display device, anyway. There's a Hue adjustment, but it has no effect for the HDMI output (only for analogue video, and even then, I can't think of any point in using it considering that both DVD and BD are digital component-based formats). There's a Saturation control, too, but again, it's better to get this right on the display first.
And now for the more advanced VRS controls, which will be of more interest. "Detail Enhancement" uses a sharpening process which creates high frequency (thinly detailed) contrast changes around tones in the image, thereby increasing the perceived sharpness without creating excessive halos. Increasing the control changes the amount of sharpening applied, and the effect can be quite pleasing at the lower values on blurry HD content (thankfully, there's not a lot of that floating around).
What's weirdly great about this control is that you can actually lower it to blur the image. With High Def contents, I would never want to do this. But, for SD DVD, this can actually be beneficial. If you read my review of the Toshiba XD-E500 Upscaling DVD player, I explain that very few SD DVDs are mastered with high frequency detail left intact anyway. Therefore, softening them very slightly can actually conceal compression artefacts and ringing, without impinging on the what remaining picture detail they actually have. You might be surprised at the results of this.
"Edge Enhancement" uses the same sharpening algorithm as "Detail Enhancement", but has a different threshold so only targets areas detected as edges in the image. Oppo's official explanation suggests that the purpose of this is to apply gain to outlines in the picture, without sharpening background noise. I could never find a use for this, though, because the effect is horribly unnatural with everything I tried it with. If you do encounter a title that's in need of a bit of sharpness kick, I recommend using the "Detail Enhancement" control instead, which affects the entire image and looks far less processed.
Interestingly, both of these controls leave an 8x8 pixel border around the image untouched. This is strange, but for the most part unnoticeable with real world content (unless you have the "enhancers" turned up to unwatchably high extremes).
The "Noise Reduction" control differs from what you'll find on most other players. On BD players, this option is usually a temporal filter which can be activated to average out noise (or grain, which looks pretty similar) in the video. Oppo's control appears to be an implementation of the VRS mosquito noise filter, though, which is a spatial process – an altogether different type of processing which will do nothing to reduce moving noise patterns and instead appears to be designed to target compression artefacts. I tried it out to see how effective it was in doing battle against mosquito noise in AVC encodes. A good example of this is during the overlaid animated credits in Sony's "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist", which move and pop in a way which doesn't match the movement of the background video or the encoder's GOP structure and thus create mosquito noise around their outlines. Sure enough, it was possible to disguise the mosquito noise without killing genuine details (at least on the lower settings – the high ones make the image look like wet ink, which is normal for a spatial filter). All this really does is make the ugliness look different, though – it doesn't undo the damage done by the compression in the first place.
Fortunately, the modern codecs and encoders used in the production and playback of Blu-ray Disc titles are able to achieve previously unsurpassed transparency to the source, and the format's large capacity means that bit rates can be kept high. So, I really don't think anyone is going to have much use for this control. Get used to the fact, everyone: there is very little wrong with video on BD when it's mastered properly.
"Y/C Delay" allows the Coloured areas of the picture to be realigned to better match the Brightness component. This is a mostly analogue-centric option, but may still be of use in correcting Y/C errors in the display. (Misaligned colour components on DVD software is a very rare problem and stems from the days where analogue component video was used to connect VTRs to encoders. With BD software, it should be totally non-existent). When I reviewed the Oppo DV-983H, I was critical of the fact that Oppo offered limited scope with this control (despite Anchor Bay's chip offering subpixel precision control), but here in the BDP-83, we have 16 levels of adjustment to both the left and right. Digital displays have made Y/C delay very rare, but the option will still prove valuable for some.
Finally, "Border Level" allows you to control the brightness of unused areas of the screen (for example, side-bars on 4:3 DVD content). You can go from full black, to full white, or anywhere inbetween. Owners of Plasmas susceptible to temporary image retention can use this feature to enable grey side-bars.
There are more picture adjustments in the "HDMI Options" screen. The first of these is for Deinterlacing Mode. "Auto" attempts detection between Video and Film, "Film Bias Mode" does exactly what it says and biases detection in favour of Film content, "Video" forces video mode (there's really no need), and the "2:2 Even" and "2:2 Odd" options allow you to override any auto detection and force compensation for 2:2 contents ("2:2 Even" is almost never used; whereas "2:2 Odd" is effective for PAL Film DVD discs).
"CUE Correction" filters the coloured components in the image to blur out jaggies. "CUE" stands for Chroma Upsampling Error, and describes a "jaggy colour" effect that occurs when colour in interlaced video is upsampled using a process that should only be used for progressive contents. It's somewhat misleadingly named, because the decoders used in the Oppo players are properly designed and do not have CUE to start with. "Chroma Filter" would be a more technically correct name, because this control is used to conceal the inevitable colour jagginess that can be visible with Interlaced content. "Auto" behaves correctly, filtering the chroma components only when necessary and not engaging the filter in cases where it's not needed. You can also force it on or force it off.
"Color Space" lets you manually pick between several RGB and Digital Component (YCbCr) output options. I had no reason to change from the "Auto" setting, but I suggest users look at the finest lines in the Chroma Multiburst pattern on the included Spears & Munsil calibration disc, to see if their own TV or Projector prefers one input mode to the other. (Some displays will truncate the finest coloured details on one mode, but leave them intact on another).
Next, we have an option for "HDMI Deep Color", with the options being to output in 30-bit or 36-bit (that's what we usually call 10-bit and 12-bit, respectively - the numbers have been multiplied by three). There is no DVD or BD software that carries video to these standards, though: all of the video codecs on both DVD and BD are limited to 8-bit. Having the player output higher than this would only increase the granularity of the mathematical calculations done by video adjustments such as Brightness and Contrast. It's unlikely to produce different results for most users.
Lastly, we have a Split Screen "Demo Mode" which allows you to keep the original input video on one side of the screen, go nuts playing with the processing adjustments, and admire your newly created work of abstract video "art", in both "before" and "after" flavours. There's also an "A/V Sync" option for audio delay, which goes from 0ms to 200ms in 10ms increments.
"It just works" seems like an apt phrase to borrow here. Like almost every other BD player I've reviewed, when its fed with 1080p/24 content, the Oppo BDP-83 outputs video to your display and does it correctly. That's it. The BDP-83 is no better and no worse in terms of picture quality than the other properly working players on the market and you can confirm this yourself with the Multiburst and Zone plate patterns on the included Spears & Munsil disc. The player resolves full resolution for both the Chroma and Luma components.
Just to make sure that the Anchor Bay VRS chip wasn't accidentally performing any Gamma alteration to the video, I ran the player in both "Source Direct" (VRS bypassed) and "1080p" (VRS on) modes and measured Greyscale patterns from both on a calibrated Pioneer KURO PDP-LX5090. The results were the same on both occasions: you can use either mode with the Oppo BDP-83 and be sure that nothing is going on behind your back. BD player owners who so badly want to see quality differences should begin investigating the encoding and pre-processing techniques that exist between different releases - it is at this stage that problems and visual discontinuities can appear. The players are doing their job of decoding and displaying the encoded contents correctly – at the very least, this one is!
The situation with 1080i is very different. The ability to detect Film contents inside an interlaced signal (Film Mode Detection) varies wildly from player to player, and in the case of pure video camera material, the player has to filter the image in a way that conceals jaggies and inter-field flickering (deinterlacing artefacts).
To test the quality of the Oppo BDP-83's deinterlacing, I engaged tests from the supplied Spears & Munsil BD test disc. First of all, I used the tests for Film Mode Processing. The disc contains 10 different cadences (motion patterns) which range from fairly obscure to more common.
Remember, most Blu-ray Discs are encoded at 1080p/24 (even TV shows originally mastered at 1080i are often converted to 1080p/24, probably for the gains in compression efficiency), so the results of this test are not hugely important to most users. However, that doesn't change the fact that the Oppo BDP-83 passes all 10 of the cadence tests without any issues whatsoever. This is a considerably better result than the Panasonic DMP-BD35, and somewhat scandalously, also ahead of the Denon's £4,500 reference machine, which passed 5-6 of the tests depending on the player setup. The fact that the player passes cadences which almost nobody will encounter might not be of huge relevance, but it does give you an idea of the quality of the machine and the work that's gone in.
Judging the quality of Video Mode Deinterlacing is a little harder, but the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray Disc contains a pattern to remove as much subjectivity from the test as is possible. The "three rotating bars" jaggies pattern showed all three bars appearing smooth, with very small jaggies barely detectable on the bottom bar when viewed at close range. The Video Resolution Loss Test passed as well, indicating that the player only processed the moving portions of an image, leaving the background free of tampering.
Europe's irritating decision to drag the once logical, now annoying 50hz scan rate into the HD era means that we also have to contend with a minority of discs that are 1080i/50hz based, but contain film content (remember that the application format used for Blu-ray Disc Movie playback does not support 25p at 1080p resolution). You probably won't be surprised to read that the Oppo BDP-83 tackles this correctly, too.
The end result of this is that there is essentially nothing wrong with this machine's 1080i playback at all. Sorry, I'll phrase that less negatively: it's basically perfect. This quality of engineering at a "mid-range" price point is incredibly impressive. It's a reminder that high quality performance comes from a company's willingness to chase after exhaustive levels of perfection and to cooperate with established experts in the video world, rather than simply selling a product with audiophile-level performance claims and price tags.
DVD Video Playback
The Oppo DV-983H was critically acclaimed for being able to flawlessly handle just about any NTSC disc that you threw at it, but for a European audience, there were still a few issues with its 2-2 cadence detection (this is the case with several players, irrespective of pricing). Although the issue could be worked around easily by simply forcing the correct mode in the player's menu, it meant that there was no "set and forget" mode for getting the best from PAL Film DVDs. So, I started out by seeing if things have improved with the BDP-83.
Sadly, things are much the same. In the "Auto" and "Film Bias" deinterlacing modes, cadence detection for PAL Film material is attempted, but it was not entirely successful with our test material (the PAL HQV test disc as well as several PAL movie titles). The player would stay locked on to the Film content for part of the sequence, but other times, the machine would incorrectly identify the contents as Video, creating subtle flickering. Most users aren't going to notice, but the problem is there. Fortunately though, as with the DV-983H, you can still manually force the player into deinterlacing PAL movies correctly by entering the "HDMI Options" menu and selecting the "2:2 Odd" cadence option (or much more rarely, "2:2 Even"). The fact that there's no true "set and forget" option is a little disappointing, but not entirely unexpected: many players struggle with 50hz 2-2 content and need to be manually instructed. Hopefully, Oppo can improve this ease-of-use with later firmware updates, but the fact that it's a slight annoyance carried over from their high-end DVD player makes me speculate as to whether it's a limitation of the Anchor Bay VRS chip itself.
NTSC material is as perfect as you'd expect. Like its DVD-only predecessor, Oppo's BD player correctly engages Film Mode processing on all of the NTSC cadence tests (at least on the Luminance portion of the video - there is incredibly subtle chroma flickering on some of the crazier cadences, but I could find no real-world content which revealed this).
Lastly, scaling. The quality of the scaling (upconversion) of the Anchor Bay VRS chip is on the better end of the scale and produces excellent results. When compared to devices using the Silicon Optix HQV solution, the VRS processor in the Oppo appears slightly less crisp and produces a little bit more ringing when viewing a SMPTE RP-133 resolution test chart. However, with real world content, the difference was essentially null, due to the pre-filtering used in the production of most DVD Video titles, and the fact that photorealistic content conceals such performance variations in a way that test patterns do not.
Like other players, Oppo have implemented a mode which can convert 60hz-centric NTSC film material to 24p output, allowing judder-free playback of said content. There is no direct provision for 24p output in the DVD-Video specification itself (it was written in the 1990s), but most players offering this option are doing so via a manual control which instructs the MPEG decoder section to simply ignore flags in the video stream which, while not originally intended for this task, can be skipped over to output only parts of the picture relevant to 24p output. This works well, but the user has to enable the mode manually, and know when to do so.
Oppo have chosen a different route and instead, their player analyses motion in the video to detect the presence of 24p content, if the user has told the player they want it to attempt this. However, the results varied from disc to disc. With some film-based titles, the 24p output mode worked flawlessly, whereas with others, the 24p mode would result in occasional jaggies and stuttering. Naturally, I've supplied Oppo's engineers with test material to help pin the problem down (something we do as a matter of course for any manufacturer).
Disc Load Times
Using a copy of Sony's "The International", I tested the BDP-83's responsiveness. I was delighted to see that the player took only 4 seconds to power on and extend the disc tray (the last player I reviewed took 25 seconds to do the same). The Oppo then took 41 seconds to load the disc contents and display the opening Sony Pictures logo. This is considerably faster than many other BD players out there. I look forward to testing recent players from LG and JVC, both of which also claim quick loading times, to see if they're as fast as this unit.
Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player Review
Oppo's BD player has finally landed, and it's been worth the wait. Like other machines, there are no surprises when it comes to its 1080p disc playback quality, as the Oppo delivers a clean, unadulterated image, just as a player should. Where the machine really excels above its rivals is with rarer 1080i Blu-ray Discs, with NTSC DVDs, and in the usability stakes: the player has the distinction of being faster and more user friendly than any other standalone machine I've used, and is narrowly beaten only by the excellent Playstation 3 games console in this department. Even if you own an off-board video processor and are planning to bypass the Oppo's built-in Anchor Bay VRS chip, then I can still recommend the BDP-83 thanks to its rare ease of use and speed.
PAL DVD backwards compatibility is about as good as most other players in this price range: the Oppo BDP-83 needs to be manually instructed to deinterlace 2-2 material to get the best possible quality from your PAL DVD collection, and doesn't have a flawless "Automatic" mode for this task - at least, not at the time of writing. Because Oppo continually improve their products, I look forward to seeing if they can overcome this annoyance.
The Oppo BDP-83 stands as yet another excellent Blu-ray Disc player for those who haven't yet made the jump into High Definition to consider. The price tag is higher than similar players from larger manufacturers, but Oppo's player has the distinctions of being faster and more user friendly, being compatible with SACD and DVD Audio discs, and being able to tackle 1080i content better than almost anything. If you're irritated at the sluggishness of your current machine and/or don't mind paying a little extra for a BD player which at least matches your DVD player in terms of usability, then Oppo's BDP-83 is for you. It's a real shame that there's no official European release of the player, but American units which have been modified to accept discs from all regions are available on the web, which, in the end, makes one of these a highly convenient, if slightly hard to get ahold of machine. Highly Recommended.
Note about HD Picture Quality score: the AVForums criteria for "Reference" 1080p playback quality requires that a player engages some sort of anti-banding feature (as seen on the flawed but potentially impressive Sony BDP-S5000ES player). Please keep in mind that almost all Blu-ray Disc players produce fantastic quality video, meaning that the differences between "Excellent" players and our currently non-existent, hypothetical "Reference" machine would be incredibly subtle.
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