Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray Player, Darbee Edition Review
Oppo Digital has long been a favorite of the HT Guys. There have certainly been more expensive and exotic Blu-ray players built, but we’re yet to find a competitor that packs the functionality and features of an Oppo, with the same build quality at the same price. Dollar for dollar, Oppo makes what is probably the best Blu-ray player you should ever need to buy.
Our last Oppo review was the BDP-93 on Podcast 463 back in January of 2011. Since that time, Oppo released a couple new players, the BDP-103 and the BDP-105 that introduced support for 4K up-scaling, 2D-to-3D conversion and an extra HDMI input so you can take advantage of the Oppo video processing capabilities with other video sources. These players were met with the same critical acclaim as their predecessors.
But that wasn’t enough for the good folks at Oppo. Sure their players could meet or exceed the specifications of any television or projector you could connect them to, but they kept looking for ways to make them even better. That led to the release of the BDP-103D and the BDP-105D. Both are nearly equivalent to the earlier models, except for the inclusion of Darbees Visual Presence. That D in the name adds an extra $100 to each model, putting them at $599 (Buy Now) and $1299 (Buy Now) respectively.
Darbee Visual Presence
Many love it, many hate it, many couldn’t care less about it. Whatever you opinion of Darbee Visual Presence, odds are you’ve met someone with a passionate stance on the technology. Darbee has a different take on video processing that improves depth and detail in an image by increasing or decreasing the local pixel luminance. They essentially use light to increase the details by adding additional light some cases or additional shadow in others, to the image on screen. This is different from the contrast enhancement technologies you may have tried in the past that just adjust the overall white or black levels. Those never work and should always be turned off. But Darbee works at the pixel level, so it is quite different.
Other sharpness or edge enhancing technologies tend to introduce a lot of artifacts to an image. They typically add sharpness where you don’t want it and make things just look strange or pixelated. Darbee is different from those as well. Knowing that it is a totally different technology from the picture enhancement options we tell you to always turn off, the question is: will Darbee be something we recommend you leave on, or will it fall in with the rest of them as an option you typically don’t want to use.
The technology whitepaper at the Darbee website goes into great detail if you’re interested in reading it.
We don’t yet have a 4K television or projector in any of our test setups, which is something we plan to remedy very soon, but due to the lack of a screen for it, we couldn’t review the 4k Up-conversion function of the player. Beyond that, we aren’t huge fans of 3D, so we opted not to review the 2D-to-3D Conversion either. This review really came down to the Darbee processing and how much we thought it added to or detracted from the standard Blu-ray experience.
To get the Darbee chip into the BDP-103, Oppo had to remove the Marvell QDEO Kyoto-G2H video chip. Fans of the QDEO chips may find that hard to swallow, but it was for a good cause. They added a dedicated Darbee button to the remote so you can have quick access to your Darbee settings to make easy adjustments on the fly. What adjustments? Beyond just on or off, you can choose from three different processing modes, Hi-Def, Gaming, and Full Pop, and within those modes you can dial in the amount of Darbee from 0 to 120%.
The BDP-103D even has a great demo mode that allows you to see a split screen showing the impact Darbee will have on your video. This made the review so much simpler. We could dial up some content, apply Darbee at a ton of different settings and watch the difference. There is no doubt the Darbee has an impact on the video. Those who have said they don’t see much impact may be watching on a smaller television or just aren’t looking close enough. We did see the most dramatic impact on our 100” projector screen.
There were times where we were astonished by the Darbee technology and others were it seemed to make things worse. In some cases, we saw detail we would have had no idea was ever there – skin pocs, whiskers, blemishes. It was astonishing. It almost felt like the Darbee had a way to reveal secret information encoded in the video that our TV or projector didn’t know how to display. What you see in the split screen images at the Darbee website aren’t just gimmicks, they are for real.
However, there are cases where Darbee did too much. There was so much change in light and shadow that the resulting picture felt fake or cartoony. At full 120, the Darbee ruined just about anything it touched. Dialing it back to 70-80 made some content great, but was too much for other content and in some cases introduced artifacts we don’t see with other Blu-ray players without the Darbee technology. Some Amazon reviews complain of motion blur, but we never saw any in our review.
We found that running the Darbee in Hi-Def mode, at somewhere between 20 and 30, gave us the best compromise of being universally applicable to all content without going too far. At that setting we didn’t feel like we were getting maximum impact, but we also weren’t distracted by it when the technology went a little too aggressive. For $100 extra, we were hoping for a bit more, but there were cases that blew us away, so maybe we got what we wanted.
The decision between the BDP-103 with Marvell QDEO and the BDP-103D with Darbee Visual Presence is entirely subjective. The Marvell chip is an awesome piece of technology that produces, clean, crisp images that you will be more than happy with. The Darbee chip in some cases turns your movies from ordinary to extraordinary, but in others may do the opposite. If you’re diligent about adjusting the Darbee on the fly, you’ll probably love the 103D. If you just want to sit back and watch, you’ll probably set it at a low setting like we did, or just stick to the 103 with QDEO.
Posted by The HT Guys, July 11, 2014 2:07 AM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.