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Oppo BDP-103D Darbee Edition Universal Disc Player Reviewed

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BDP-103-refl.jpg"Where do we go from here?" That's the question Oppo Digital had to ask itself after putting out the highly regarded BDP-103 and BDP-105 universal disc players in 2012. The design team felt that it done all it could do to get the best AV performance from the current players and, with no UHD/4K Blu-ray standard imminent, it was going to be a while before development could begin on a next-gen player. So what to do in the meantime? Close up shop and take an extended and well-deserved vacation? Nope. Instead, the team engaged in a little "out of the box" thinking about unique features that could be added to the existing line, and all eyes landed squarely on Darbee Visual Presence. The results are special-edition versions of the BDP-103 and BDP-105 that incorporate this interesting new technology. The new BDP-103D sells for $599, and the BDP-105D sells for $1,299 - in both cases, that's a $100 step up from the basic models.

What is Darbee Visual Presence? In a nutshell, it's a form of video processing that improves the sense of depth and clarity in the image by adjusting luminance values, using light and shadow in much the same way an artist does to create a sense of depth and detail in a painting. Unlike sharpness controls and other edge-enhancement technologies that add unwanted information to make the picture seem more detailed, or the contrast/black enhancement tools that just play with overall white and black levels (usually crushing white/black detail in the process), Darbee Visual Presence works at the pixel level, changing luminance values and adding 3D visual cues by creating left and right frames within a 2D space to enhance the sense of depth, dimensionality and, consequently, detail. The technology may be difficult to explain, but the effect is actually quite easy to see. You can learn more about Darbee Visual Presence through the company's website.

Oppo sent me a sample of the BDP-103D, which I was able to compare directly with my standard BDP-103. The special-edition BDP-103D is identical to standard BDP-103 in every way, except for the processing chip inside. The BDP-103D supports the same disc formats and has the same complement of features, including dual HDMI outputs, an HDMI input, MHL support, RS-232, and WiFi support with a variety of streaming platforms. The box is identical to the basic BDP-103: same size, same connections, same button layout. The only difference in the remote controls is that the 103D adds a direct button for the Darbee control and thus omits the 3D button (3D playback is still supported). You can get a full rundown of the BDP-103's features and performance in our review of that product. Here, I'm going to focus on what Darbee Visual Presence (DVP) brings to the table.

In order to incorporate DVP, Oppo had to replace the Marvell QDEO Kyoto-G2H video chip used in the standard BDP-103 with the Silicon Image VRS ClearView processor. Darbee Visual Presence is only available through the HDMI 1 output on the 103D's back panel, and it works with both DVD and Blu-ray content. Hitting the remote's Darbee button brings up a menu through which you can choose between four DVP modes: Hi-Def, Gaming, Full Pop, and Off. As the names suggest, Hi-Def is best suited for Blu-ray and Gaming for CGI-heavy content, while Full Pop is designed for lower-resolution sources like DVD. Within each mode, you can adjust the amount of DVP from zero to 120 percent, in single-step increments - so there's a wide range of customization available. I was amused by the fact that the control goes to 120 percent instead of 100 - how very Spinal Tap ("This one goes to 11!"). A demo mode lets you see how DVP affects picture quality via an on/off split screen or screen wipe, which proved to be very useful during the review process and can also help you decide exactly how aggressive you want DVP to be with any given source.

I fed the Oppo directly into Samsung's 55-inch KN55S9C OLED TV and then into Sony's VPL-HW30ES SXRD projector, mated with the 100-inch Visual Apex VAPEX9100SE screen. As I suggested above, DVP's effect on the picture is not subtle, at least not at the maximum percentage level within any given mode. Even on the smaller 55-inch TV, I could clearly see the increase an image clarity and depth from a seating distance of over eight feet, and those improvements grew all the more obvious when I moved to the big-screen projector setup. Accentuating even the tiniest of shadow contrasts within the picture helps to bring out the finest details. I've attempted to capture the difference in the slideshow images below; using the Oppo's split-screen demo mode, the left side shows the picture with DVP at its maximum level in Hi-Def mode, and the right side has no DVP effect. So much more defined and precise were the mounds of dirt in Gladiator and the facial features in The Amazing Spider-man and Kingdom of Heaven. The technology is especially effective in bringing out the finest background details, such as the cornfield in Signs and the intricate rock walls and dirt in Pirates of Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

At its maximum level, though, DVP can also accentuate any noise in the image, especially in low-light scenes. Foggy night scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl looked quite noisy, and facial close-ups were sometimes too harshly detailed, almost seeming over-exposed. The Full Pop mode, at its maximum, caused obvious and distracting blurring around edges and could look quite unnatural at times. The Hi-Def mode was my preference, and I dialed it back to at most 80 to 90 percent to find a good balance between image clarity and a clean, natural-looking picture. But to each his own; DVP has enough customization built in that you can tailor it exactly to your own tastes.

Click on over to Page 2 for the High Points, Low Points, Comparison and Competition and Conclusion . . .

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