Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
Summary: OPPO has an SD DVD upconverting player for both videophiles and casual viewers at the right price
In the summer of 2005 I came across a well regarded DVI upconverting DVD player from a new kid on the block by the name of OPPO and decided to give it a whirl. This culminated in August of 2005 into a Review in Progress report for the OPDV-971HD in which I gave the product a very high rating. I have been recommending OPPO ever since.
Since then, OPPO has released another model, the DV-970HD. The DV-970HD added HDMI output, SACD and DVD Audio, analog audio with the ability to turn the video stages off for better audio reproduction, and a unique 480i output directly from the disc for the scaling videophile.
The focus of this review is the recently released DV-981HD. This model provides 1080p output and multichannel PCM audio via HDMI for SACD and DVD Audio. Excluded from this model is the native 480i output via HDMI external scaling. This also happens to be the only model that comes in black, the preferred color for home theater systems.
As expected, neither the OPDV-971HD nor the DV-970HD will allow upconversion via the analog component video outputs. This connection is limited to 480p. The DV-981HD does not even provide component video output due to the predominance of HDMI and DVI connections on most modern displays.
OPDV-971HD (1st generation, DVI output)
DV-970HD (2nd generation, HDMI output)
DV-981HD (3rd generation, HDMI output)
For the DVD collector looking for great performance, the OPPO does have an Achilles Heal when it comes to letterboxed sources. While a combination of the Wide/Auto setting along with the zoom feature will properly fill out your screen, the image you get is, simply put, terrible. This is due to a bonanza of aliasing errors and others. One solution is to use the internal scaler of your display and live with those artifacts; the very reason you would buy the OPPO in the first place. Putting in perspective, most players don't have it and these days new 4:3 letterboxed titles destined for the US are basically history. These were either a byproduct of films that were mastered for the old laser disc widescreen format or are from content providers using the original master instead of producing a new one to save a buck on the DVD version. Taking all that into account, this is a very rare problem for the movie itself.
On the other hand if you are into special features or foreign origin DVDs, much of that content for SD DVD is still letterboxed. HD disc, Blu-ray and HD DVD do a great job at excluding, scaling or cropping this material for your 16:9 screen or display in HD so no adjustment is required. If you are a passionate videophile then your best bet is to use an external scaler/DVD player combo. The DV-970HD is designed for that application but was not tested for this review.
Moving on to test images from DVE at 1080p I was greeted with a very good response. The unit is not perfect, but perfection for SD comes at a very high price. The typical line interpolation errors and aliasing showed up although far less at 1080p. At 720p the process loses 44% of the pixels that 1080p provides and naturally has more of these errors. The most interesting observation occurred with edge definition and 1080p. Comparing 720p to 1080p it became quite apparent that having 44% more pixels greatly contributes to harder and more distinct edges since the change from peak black to peak white takes place over a smaller area by comparison. This was expected technically, but it was nice to see visual verification of this theory. An increase to a 2k x 4k imaging chip would double the pixel count yet again easily providing SD DVD edges nearly as distinct as HD! Putting this in perspective, you would need a viewing distance less than 3 screen heights to perceive this benefit and that is typically reserved for front projection and large screens.
The next disc up was Star Wars Episode II, a disc I have tested to no end over the last year with numerous products. I recently stepped into 1080p land and while I found HD DVD and Blu-ray a thrilling experience, I happen to run this movie through the Toshiba HD-A1 output at 1080i and was not pleased. We watched 2 more DVD movies at that time and I gave up on my 10 foot wide 1080p for SD DVD and watched those on the upstairs 720p 50" DLP system instead. Then came this player. Using the OPPO DV-981HD at 1080p output instead provided the cure! The artifacts were basically gone and I found myself involved and sucked right in very quickly! That is always a hallmark of a videophile accomplishment.
I asked OPPO about all this and the official response was that both players have 24/192 DA converters for analog audio and it will output a digital 24/192 2 channel PCM stream with 24/192 DVD Audio discs. I would like to thank HDTV Magazine Tips List member Brent Wagner for verifying that he was able to get 192khz to display on his Pioneer VSX-84TXSi receiver using HDMI and a 24/192 encoded disc.
All in all analog performance was average at best and for the average multichannel system it will suffice. Considering the price of either player, audiophile analog conversion of SACD and DVD Audio sources is not a reasonable expectation and none of the OPPO products provide any ground breaking surprise in that department. If you are an audiophile seeking audiophile stereo or multichannel analog performance outputs you will have to look elsewhere. Many will find the analog output satisfying and an improvement when comparing CD sources to SACD or DVD Audio on either OPPO player. That said there was little comparison to my reference Sony SCD777ES for SACD or modified JVC XLV720 for DVD Audio. The lack of transient response, clarity and neutral sonic signature was evident. It could be argued that an audiophile performance CD player is comparable in many ways to HD audio via the OPPO. In the end both players provide a good entry level audio signature that is to be credited for a smooth response while not doing anything grossly wrong or irritating causing listener fatigue. On the other hand both players provide multichannel PCM streams via HDMI for a capable receiver and this is where some form of audiophile nirvana is to be found.
I tested the OPPO PCM stream using a Pioneer VSX-81TXV A/V receiver which provides 24/192 DA conversion for the outputs. In this mode I was able to duplicate all DVD Audio formats out to 24/96 yet when a 24/192 disc was put in the player the receiver stated 96khz on the front panel. When an SACD is played on the OPPO the Pioneer indicates 88.2khz. In this area things became far dicier for me as a reviewer. My 2 channel system is composed of custom and modified products designed and setup for the ultimate expression of a neutral audio signature. My multichannel setup is clearly a compromise by comparison using off the shelf stock products with a speaker arrangement that is not optimized for multichannel applications. Accordingly, I need to keep all of this in perspective in my comments.
The best place to start in tearing this down is the source, player and disc. The vast majority of DVD Audio is 24/96 multichannel encoded so based on that you potentially have a clear shot from the disc multichannel decoding to the DA converters on your receiver, provided the OPPO is decoding the bitstream off the disc properly. To acquire this in your system requires you setup the OPPO for the PCM stream and the OPPO audio menu for multichannel speaker setup, setting your speakers as small with subwoofer on so the decoding remains native to the source. It was in this mode with 24/96 sources that the two HD audio capable OPPO players shined the best without question. So much so that I am strongly considering revamping my multichannel application for better performance to provide a more in depth sonic experience! Beyond that things begin to get dicey due to conversion of other formats like SACD and 24/192 PCM sources. With 24/192 I can only state that like 24/96 if your receiver supports it then it will sound as good as the receiver. Whether in multichannel or stereo mode, SACD was lacking in clarity. Not only was it being down converted* to 88.2khz, but also being converted from DSD to PCM. That said there were other aspects of SACD multichannel playback compared to top notch stereo that provided pause in my evaluation. To go in depth would extend the length of this review dramatically in trying to provide perspective on those technical issues. Ultimately, getting the full potential of SACD performance is an audiophile concern and I suggest an audiophile stand alone player. I know that is not an easy or inexpensive product to find. It is unfortunate, but in the end maintaining a pure unconverted signal for SACD from source to decoded analog output whether that be stereo or multichannel analog or digital is a huge challenge for the end user on a budget.
This also drew comparisons between a decoded multichannel PCM stream and the raw bitstream off the disc feeding the receiver for DVD movie soundtracks. Splitting hairs, I found I preferred the bitstream for an edge in overall clarity. This brings up the current debate concerning HDMI 1.3 support for HD Audio bitstreams which would provide a straight shot from the disc to your receiver. While a digital PCM multichannel stream is typically considered superior to an analog multichannel input, there remains a process of conversion that will take place as the channels are sliced, diced and converted to the settings you have designed for your room in the receiver. The only to way to get a straight shot through the receiver is to turn all such processing off as if it was a direct analog feed and output directly to the amps. But that would defeat the purpose and improvements gleaned by room correction. With a bitstream, the decoding and processing all take place within the same domain reducing conversion steps. The flip side of this argument is digital, but any videophile with external scaling also understands conversion of anything from its native form generally creates artifacts and cross conversions only create cumulative errors. At this point, this debate has few players since HDMI 1.3 sources and receivers are rare at this time so I bring this up as a reference for my experience and a heads up to readers passionate about the new HD disc formats performing at their peak capability.
With HD DVD and Blu-ray players hitting the market do you really need yet another box, remote and available connection to deal with? The first generation Toshiba HD DVD players did OK with upscaling but the OPPO is better. Blu-ray on the other hand has just hit the market from a variety of well known manufacturers who have their own history of decent performance as well as new HD DVD models from Toshiba supporting 1080p for both HD DVD and SD DVD and the difference in performance may not be enough to justify. For my system I have a first generation Toshiba HD DVD player, Xbox 360 and a Sony PS3. As pointed out, the Toshiba is not as good. The Xbox 360 is stuck at 480p and won't upconvert SD DVD for the standard analog component connection. Until recently it had an SD DVD black level error as well but that has been fixed. As this article was published the Sony PS3 was upgraded to support 1080p upconversion of SD DVD and based on a preliminary evaluation it directly competes with the OPPO's level of performance. For my application and passion for quality, the DV-981HD fits the requirement at the right price even though SD DVD is going by the wayside in my HD system.
What about the other models? It depends on the application. The DV-970HD is $149 and you can certainly save some dough if your display is not 1080p or does not support a 1080p input. That said, if 1080p is in your near future I would suggest the DV-981HD. If you are running an external scaler the DV-970HD does provide the raw 480i output from the disc for the best possible processing, costing far less than modified DVD players enabled for SDI. It is a natural for that application and also the intent of providing the feature! To be clear, this feature was not tested for this review. The OPDV-971HD is $199 and the main purpose to buy it is for a legacy display that uses DVI inputs. While DVI is compatible with HDMI there are various reasons as to why one might want DVI exclusively and such reasons will have been brought to your attention by your calibrator or HT installer due to your unique situation. An explanation here would be lengthy and apply to very few users.
Finally we come to the sad reality; your application and either one of the HD disc players may make the OPPO unnecessary. Starting at the bottom price range a Sony PS3 is $600 and a Toshiba HD-A20 about $450. Take the cost of an OPPO out of those prices and you can see the dilemma you have with price versus overall capability. In my opinion OPPO needs to get involved with the HD disc formats or they will be left with great SD DVD players that no longer fill a need if either or both HD disc formats blast off. As of today, due to the Sony firmware update for the PS3, I have no real need for the DV-981HD either for SD DVD.
Posted by Richard Fisher, June 14, 2007 6:54 AM
About Richard FisherRichard Fisher is the President of Mastertech Repair Corporation, serving north east Atlanta, Georgia, and has been servicing, calibrating and reviewing audio video products since 1981. Tech Services USA, a division of Mastertech, creates sites, communities and libraries for consumers and professionals to share their technology knowledge and learn from each other. These include The ISF Forum and HD Library. HDTV Magazine exclusively publishes HD Library and Forum for Tech Services USA.
Richard is ISF and HAA certified providing calibration and A/V reproduction engineering services. Richard is a technical consultant and also provides performance ISF and HAA home theater systems and calibration via Custom HT. Mastertech Repair Corporation is a factory authorized service center for Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Toshiba and a member of the National Electronics Servicing Dealers Association, NESDA, and the Georgia Electronics Servicing Dealers Association, GESDA.