Editor's note: Since this review was written, Oppo has added IPTV and DLNA support and also improved compatibility with MKV files and a number of Blu-ray titles.
For the longest time, the Sony PlayStation 3 was the beginning and ending of any conversation about Blu-ray. This was simply due to its competitive price, upgradability and unparalleled feature set. Slowly, though, its position has eroded, and despite the fact that the PS3 Slim has landed we think we have found our new favourite Blu-ray player.
Oppo may not be a well-known brand in Australia, but in the States it's been the "go-to" brand for DVD image quality for several years. Expectations were high, then, for its first HD player — imported locally by Merlin Audio Design.
While the press shots make it look like some sort of Frankenstein, with a brushed metal fascia and plastic readout, the unit looks a lot better integrated in real life. In fact, for the price, it's a very stylish-looking device. It brings to mind the players of Marantz, but without the price tag. Build quality is very good, and the unit feels reassuringly heavy at a little over 5 kilos.
The remote is great — it's backlit — with big, friendly easy-to-read buttons. It has an almost TiVo remote feel to it, and like that product it's half of the fun of using this player.
Audiophiles and videophiles alike will want for nothing when it comes to the feature count of the BDP-83, and we can't think of any player under four grand that does as much as this. For starters, it covers the gamut of 12cm (CD-sized) discs with everything from Microsoft's HDCD format through to SACD and DVD-Audio; and, of course, DVD and Blu-ray. Bear in mind that this is a physical media player, so if you're looking for a machine that can stream MP3s or MKVs from your network then you'll be better off looking at rivals LG or Samsung.
Apart from its support for a wide variety of formats, we're sure that punters will also appreciate its lack of region-encoding — for both DVD and Blu-ray discs. While you can opt for a region-locked version, we don't know why you would: you immediately have access to a world's worth of content and a premium player to use it on.
The BDP-83 incorporates Anchor Bay's Video Reference Series (VRS) technology for both upscaling and general processing, and Oppo claims this makes for a picture that is "cleaner, smoother, true-to-life and free of artefacts".
The player features two USB ports and an Ethernet port, which perfectly complements its support for BD-Live, and presumably Sony's new movieIQ feature, which is sort of like an on-screen IMDB with movie and even soundtrack information. The Oppo is also able to play movies, MP3s and photos off a USB stick.
For a mid-priced Blu-ray player you certainly get a lot of extras in the box. Most notable is a HDMI cable, which means you can plug-and-play straight away, but you also get two calibration disks that will help with setting up your picture and sound.
Though this is a video player it has plenty of features catering to people who appreciate high quality audio. For movies, you get all of the high-def formats including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio plus a 7.1 analog output. This gives you plenty of flexibility because you can choose to have your player decode movies or to pass it through to your receiver.
As "audio enthusiasts" we were also impressed to see the music-centric features as well. For that extra quality boost there is a "Pure audio mode" on-board which shuts off all non-essential circuits. The player uses the older, but well regarded Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC for its stereo output, and Cirrus' CS4382A DAC for surround sound.
If you say: "you're joking, HD discs are dead" ... well, we mostly agree with you, but artists such as the Flaming Lips are still releasing albums on DVD-Audio, so this player's support for this format is still relevant to some buyers. Furthermore, unlike many so-called "SACD players", the BDP-83 can read the format that Sony invented to replace the decades-old PCM (Pulse Code Modulation). It's called DSD (Direct Stream Digital) and is supposed to be a better approximation of an analog source. Most players simply convert the signal to PCM and lose all of the benefits of the technology whereas the Oppo will enable users to squeeze every last piece of information out of an SACD disc.
While we crack our fingers and dip our quill into the inkwell we can't help but thinking about how well this player performed — in fact, we're going to find it hard to say anything bad about it at all. So where to begin? Are you buying this to watch movies or listen to music? Why choose, when it can do both?
We have to start somewhere, so it may as well be with the disc format mentioned in the name: Blu-ray. Given its reputation, it was no surprise to see it do well here. In fact, this is close to being reference-standard. That said, most Blu-ray players tend to perform similarly and so there isn't as much of a performance gap as you'll see on DVD players. We started with one of our main discs, Mission Impossible III, which is a stern test for any player. While it wasn't a flawless performance, it did pretty damn well: images had both depth and authority. There was almost no judder, no moire artefacts on parallel lines, and plenty of detail. In fact, the only weakness that could be levelled at this player is that it might be a little too revealing of some discs — the bridge attack scene showed up some extra noise than many players, but thankfully no pixellation.
Using a synthetic test Blu-ray disc bore out the player's capabilities even further. It aced all of the tests and only fell down in the same place as before — the HD noise test was a little more noisy than we've seen on other players.
While Blu-ray performance was very good, it was in DVD replay where the player truly excelled. We were intrigued by the 24p DVD conversion mode and in order to test this we tried watching a movie with the feature off. We did find there was a bit of judder when replaying the King Kong DVD, but colour and detail were good. We didn't have the noise problem we'd seen with Blu-ray, and upscaling is fantastic — on a double-blind test you could be excused for thinking you were watching a Blu-ray. Things got even better once we kicked in 24p conversion: the judder that we had seen as the planes circle Kong's head was now gone, images gained both depth and authority. We loved it.
While we were excited about testing the player's music capabilities we couldn't forget about the fact that it plays movies first and foremost. We fed a disc like Spider-Man 3 into the BDP-83 and found that it offered an expansive soundstage. While our surround receiver did a better job to our ears, with greater depth and home cinema "oomph", for the price surround sound is really quite good. This is also happy news for people with older receivers incapable of decoding DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD — you can decode these audio streams in high quality and output them via your choice of 5.1/7.1 analog or via HDMI.
Given that the Oppo is a video player we were surprised at how well it accounted for itself as a CD player in comparison to a dedicated audio component like the Cambridge Audio DacMagic. Despite a smidgen more trebly harshness on behalf of the Oppo, they actually sounded very similar. This was definitely a shock given that the Cambridge costs AU$700 and isn't a disc player in its own right. We found that the Oppo had a very "live" sound, as opposed to a dry sound, and could make discs more expansive and "fun".
Next, we tested the Oppo's abilities to play HD Audio, and specifically its ability to pass-through DSD via HDMI. We pitted the player against the Sony STRDA5400ES to see which could do a better job of decoding this high-quality source. In use, the Sony sounded more clinical after the lively Oppo, and this suited the Pixies Surfer Rosa SACD we fed it.
We have been mightily impressed by the Oppo: it offers excellent image and sound quality, and comes with a features list as long as an NBA player's arm. But when you throw in the facts that it's region-unlocked by default and comes at a good price we can't help but gush about it. The only thing left to say is: get this player. It's unbelievably good.