- Review Price: £173.00
Not many people in the UK have heard of OPPO, but in the US the company has made a name for itself as a purveyor of fine upscaling DVD players. The company’s three-strong range is making its way over to this side of the pond, and we’re taking a look at the top-end DV-981HD. This deck has won loads of awards in the States, so it’s with a great deal of excitement that we whip it out of the box.
The player isn’t currently available in the shops (OPPO is currently talking to UK distributors) but you can find a few online from outlets such as OppoShop, a European website that offers fast delivery times, and no import tax or duty charges for UK buyers. (It also trades via Amazon).
Taking the player out of the box, it’s encased in a protective fabric sleeve sporting the company logo, a sign that this is a cut above your average supermarket cheapie. Also in the box you’ll find an HDMI cable, which could save you a few quid.
The player itself is extremely slim, measuring just 42mm high, and build quality is solid. It’s heavier than you’d except for a deck this slim, due to the use of metal as opposed to plastic. In terms of looks it’s very attractive, with the sleek black finish, silver trim and blue lights providing the requisite eye candy.
Being such a slim unit, we expected some cuts in the connections department, but OPPO has squeezed a decent selection onto the rear panel. HDMI output is provided for suitably equipped displays, and this will deliver 1080p, 1080i, 720p and 576p pictures. There are no component video outputs, so if your display lacks HDMI, your next best option is the RGB SCART output followed by the unappealing choice of composite or S-video output. On the audio side there’s a set of 5.1-channel analogue phonos and a separate stereo pair, while digital audio outputs come in both optical and coaxial varieties.
The unit’s feature list is hugely generous. It’s a universal player, which means it spins DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD and CD, plus it handles almost every recordable disc type – DVD-R/-RW, DVD+RW/+R/+R (DL) and CD-R/-RW are all supported. The DV-981HD also offers one of the most comprehensive lists of playable file types we’ve seen, covering MP3, WMA, JPEG, XviD and all versions of DivX. Even files with .SRT, .SMI, .IDX and .SUB suffixes can be played. We also chucked a whole bunch of unspecified web-derived videos at it and the deck decoded most of them, but sadly not WMV.
The deck’s video processing comes courtesy of Faroudja’s DCDi chip, which offers progressive scan, film mode detection, motion adaptive noise reduction and TrueLife enhancement. It analyses the picture on a single pixel basis to detect angled lines or edges, then the processing reduces the appearance of ‘jaggies’.
Dip into the setup menu and you’ll find a range of picture and sound tweaks that goes beyond what most budget DVD players offer. Video options include sharpness, brightness, contrast and colour adjustments to polish the pictures before they reach your screen, plus there’s a choice of colour space settings and noise reduction modes.
For audio, you can set an audio delay to cure lip sync problems, trim the levels of each audio channel to find a suitable sonic balance and punch in the size of your speakers to find the right bass crossover point. Also on board is a range of Sound Field and EQ modes that apply effects to the sound output, though quite why you’d want a movie to sound like it was being watched in a cave or bathroom is beyond us.
So far so good, but the player’s operating system is disappointing. The onscreen menus are basic, blocky and not always logical – sometimes you get trapped in a submenu with no obvious way of going back to the previous menu. The remote is also cumbersome, sporting big, spongy buttons that don’t feel very responsive. On the plus side, the buttons glow in the dark and most of the important functions are given dedicated buttons. There are a couple of nice touches elsewhere, such as the onscreen virtual playback controls and graphic equaliser that shows you the sound levels as the film plays.
Owners of the DV-981HD in the States have had nothing but praise for the deck’s performance, and having seen its pictures first hand we can see why. First up, the upscaling is absolutely flawless, with the picture remaining free from ugly artefacts such as pixellation or smudgy noise around edges. With the deck set to 1080p, its processing does a great job at filling in the extra pixels, resulting in picture quality that really shines.
”Serenity” on DVD really shows off the player’s potential. The tricky intergalactic landscapes look focused and vividly coloured, while darker shots set in dingy cities or the depths of space remain clearly visible thanks to excellent black and contrast levels. Also pleasing is the lack of block noise and jaggies, plus the consistently smooth and judder-free motion.
The DV-981HD is equally accomplished with audio. We piped ”Serenity’s” Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack to our amp using the 5.1 analogue outs (to test its own decoding capabilities, as opposed to our amp’s) and the results were magnificent. Explosions are big and imposing, staccato effects like gunshots are sharp and snappy, dialogue is prominent and the rear channels are well-steered and clearly reproduced.
Fans of high-quality audio will be pleased with the DV-981HD’s DVD-A and SACD performance. The SACD version of ”Roxanne” by The Police sounds fresh and energetic, with a beautiful balance between the bass, mid and top end frequencies. And despite the drop in resolution, CDs sound clean and dynamic enough to make this a viable alternative to a CD player.
If you can’t be bothered with Blu-ray and want a reasonably priced DVD deck that supports a wide range of formats, then you’d do well to track the DV-981HD down. The user interface could be improved, but performance is hugely impressive, punching above its weight with music and delivering flawless 1080p upscaling. Add to this top-drawer build quality and slinky slimline looks, and you’ve got one great movie machine, proving that our Stateside friends really do know a great thing when they see it.
Score in detail
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