There’s no denying that the go-to player for most home theater enthusiasts (and manufacturers) these days is an Oppo universal player. This plucky import, which not that long ago was as a relative unknown here in the States, has come on strong and practically defined the market category of universal players. Now, with UltraHD on the horizon Oppo is at it again, this time with the new $499 direct BDP-103 reviewed here. The BDP-103 looks to build on the successes of other fabulous Oppo players like the BDP-93 and BDP-95. Is the BDP-103 a worthy successor or is it merely a rehashing of what is already available? That’s what I wanted to find out.
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At first glance, the BDP-103 looks an awful lot like the BDP-93 it replaces, but it’s not as beefy as either the BDP-95 or 105 (coming soon). Upon closer inspection, however, the differences become more apparent, for the BDP-103 boasts a few new features conveniently located on its front panel, such as a front-mounted USB input and an HDMI input. Minus those new additions, the manual controls and their location remains the same, right of the unit’s display and center-mounted disc tray, arranged in a diamond configuration. The chassis itself is the same size as the outgoing BDP-93, measuring 16.8 inches by a little over three inches tall and 12 inches deep. Even its weight is unchanged, tipping the scales at just under 11 pounds.
Around back is where the BDP-103 really comes into its own. Its cleanly laid out back panel boasts a bevy of new input and output options. Working from left to right, you’ll find the BDP-103’s Ethernet port followed by a single HDMI input – more on that later – flanked by its digital outputs (one coaxial, one optical), followed by its dual HDMI outputs (1.4a) and two USB inputs. There is an IR input, as well as a RS-232C control input. Lastly, a full complement (7.1) of analog audio inputs (RCA) rounds out the BDP-103’s connection options. Throw in an AC power input and you have the back panel of the BDP-103 all wrapped up.
Behind the scenes, or under the sheet metal, the BDP-103 has even more to offer over its predecessors. For starters, the BDP-103 features Marvell’s latest Kyoto-G2H video processor as part of its Qdeo technology. The new video processor helps to bridge the quality gap between legacy formats such as DVD and Blu-ray by providing superb up-sampling, while also helping to clean up streaming and/or user-encoded content. The BDP-103’s internal video processor offers improvements in noise reduction, compression reduction, intelligent color and contrast, detail and edge enhancement. The video processor also up-scales all incoming signals to the new UltraHD (3,840 x 2,160) standard, though the BDP-103 itself is not a true UltraHD device (it does not decode native UltraHD content, but up-scales SD or HD content to UltraHD resolution). The up-scaling to UltraHD is user-selectable and only works when connected to an UltraHD display. Trying to engage UltraHD upsampling while connected to an HDTV display will result in a blank image or, worse, locking up the unit. Of course, if you’d prefer to bypass all of the BDP-103’s wonderful video processing altogether, Oppo does offer a Source Direct Mode, though I would argue that implementing this somewhat defeats the purpose of buying a player such as the BDP-103. It should also be noted that UltraHD up-scaling and all of the other above-mentioned video enhancements are relegated to the BDP-103’s HDMI 1 output. The second (2) HDMI output features lesser video processing, though both HDMI outputs are 3D-capable.
Because Marvell’s video processing is so highly regarded, Oppo included two HDMI inputs with the BDP-103 allowing other non-Oppo devices to take full advantage of its internal scaling and processing abilities. For example, you can now connect your HD DVR or Satellite receiver to the Oppo to enhance your broadcast viewing experience, a job that maybe once fell to your AV receiver or preamp. Speaking of AV preamps, the BDP-103 has a digital volume control, as well as user-selectable speaker and crossover controls, meaning it can serve as its own AV preamp. You could feasibly connect the BDP-103 to a five- or seven-channel power amp and have everything you need to operate a top-flight multi-channel system – no AV preamp required. The BDP-103 can decode and play back all of the latest surround sound codecs, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It is also compatible with a variety of other formats, including but not limited to SACD, DVD-Audio, MP3, WAV, FLAC and HDCD. Its video format compatibility is also quite adept, for the BDP-103 can play back virtually every video format/container available today, save maybe ISO, which was removed in a firmware update to the BDP-93, never to return again. You can thank the studios for that one.
Apart from putting the “universal” into the universal player, the BDP-103 also serves as a network- or Internet-connected device. With this comes the ability to connect to several of today’s top Internet streaming services, such as Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora Internet Radio, Film Fresh and more. It can even take advantage of BD-Live and BonusView enhanced content. The BDP-103 can also connect to your home network via a wireless connection, though for streaming purposes, Oppo and I recommend sticking with a hardwired connection.
This brings us to the remote. Because the BDP-103 is so many different devices all rolled into one, it should come as no surprise that its remote is fairly comprehensive, as it looks more like a remote from an AV receiver than that of a disc spinner. Still, it’s fully backlit (thank you, baby Jesus) and, as such, is easy to navigate and read in the dark. Yes, it’s big, and yes, it has a great many buttons, but the BDP-103 also has a great many features, most of which are accessible via direct keys from the remote itself, which is very good. Furthermore, for you tablet or smart phone aficionados out there, Oppo offers a free remote app that you can download either via Google Play Store or Apple App Store (iOS version coming soon according to OPPO), which will give you full control via your tablet or smart phone via your network, as opposed to having to use the included remote control. The free remote app is ultimately what I used to control the Oppo, for my equipment rack rests in an adjacent room and I’m not big on control systems like Crestron, when many manufacturers will give you the tools necessary for touch-screen control for free via an App store.
For a more details on all of the BDP-103’s various functions, features and/or format compatibility, please visit its specifications page on the Oppo website.
Connecting the Oppo to one’s system can be as easy or as complicated as you choose to make it. Because the BDP-103 is so versatile, you have some decisions to make right out of the gate regarding how you wish to implement it. For the purposes of this review, I used the BDP-103 as a player as well as a video processor, but not as a dedicated AV preamp – though I assure you that functionality does exist. To test its remaining functionality, I connected the BDP-103 to my Integra DHC 80.2 via its main HDMI out with my Integra set to pass-through in terms of its video function. I kept the Integra in the chain, as it was controlling my speaker settings, as well as video-switching to a bevy of other sources that I used in order to compare and contrast the BDP-103’s video performance. I connected my Dune-HD Max to the BDP-103 via its rear-mounted HDMI input that would allow for the Dune-HD Max to utilize the BDP-103’s internal scaling via its HDMI output. I connected the BDP-103 to my home network via an Ethernet cable, which gave the Oppo access to my NAS drives and subsequently the terabytes of content I’ve ripped to them. All of the cabling connecting the BDP-103 to my system or other devices to it came by way of Monoprice: this included HDMI, analog audio and Ethernet cables. I tested the BDP-103’s analog section, but only in two-channel, by running a pair of analog interconnects to my Integra’s CD input.
The rest of my system played out as follows. For video, I relied solely on my new SIM2 Nero DLP front projector, projecting onto my 120-inch 4K woven Elite Screen. Amplifiers were courtesy of Crown Audio and speakers were of course my beloved Tekton Design Pendragons. No subwoofers were employed during this particular evaluation, for I have not yet settled on their final placement or EQ. Therefore, the Pendragons were run full-range.
I began my evaluation of the BDP-103 with Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man (Columbia) on DVD. No up-sampling Blu-ray player (or DVD player for that matter), even the BDP-103, can make SD look like HD, though through the 103, I felt as if it got closer than anything I have seen prior. Specifically, I noted the sharpness of the image in terms of edge fidelity which, when coupled with a surprising lack of noise, made for a better than straight DVD image that was but a few ticks behind being mistaken for Blu-ray in certain scenes. In darker scenes, the image wasn’t as effective as it was when fully lit, but again, it was able to be enjoyed and enjoyed thoroughly. Colors were rich but natural, and I noted that skin tones were rendered especially well, though surface texture and detail ultimately lacked in direct comparison to its Blu-ray counterpart. Motion was also very smooth, and as near as I could tell, motion artifacts were kept to an absolute minimum.
Read more about the performance of the Oppo BDP-103 on Page 2.
For those with large DVD collections still hanging around, the BDP-103 should provide them a lengthy stay of execution in our ever-changing HD and soon-to-be UltraHD world. A note on UltraHD, because I do not own an UltraHD set: I was unable to test the BDP-103’s up-sampling of DVD, as well as Blu-ray material, to the UltraHD resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. My assumption would be that DVD up-sampled to UltraHD isn’t going to look as good as true HD up-sampled to UltraHD, as I’ve seen it done in other demos, but I’m hazarding a guess, for the BDP-103 could prove to be an exception to the rule.
Moving to Blu-ray, the image produced via the BDP-103 looked notably sharper without appearing artificial when compared to the same content being played back via my Dune-HD Max, which lacks the Oppo’s video processing. Could either image be enjoyed? Yes, of course, but the Oppo did prove to have a better grasp of the content’s low-light information, resulting in more textural blacks and smoother, noise-free gradations in the film’s darker scenes. Colors did appear a touch richer, but not artificially so, though highlights and/or white-level detail seemed unchanged, save maybe a hint of grain reduction via the BDP-103. Skin tones with HD content via the BDP-103 looked positively true to life and very organic. I especially appreciated the clarity and focus the BDP-103 seemed to portray when it came to fine textures such as hair, fabric weave and liquids. The semi-translucent strands of genetic webbing (I believe this is how the film referred to them) were rendered very nicely, possessing true three-dimensionality, as you could clearly see through the strands and the distortion they imparted upon the objects behind them. This was very cool, and another showcase of the BDP-103’s detail prowess. Contrast was impressive, though at times I felt the film transfer let the BDP-103 down rather than the other way round; I was able to confirm this when viewing The Island on Blu-ray (Warner Bros.). Another good test that showcased the BDP-103’s contrast prowess was Battleship on Blu-ray (Universal), with the whitecaps of waves rendered in fine, smooth detail against the cold steel of the alien and naval ships.
Getting back to The Amazing Spider-Man, I re-watched portions of the film, this time being pulled from my NAS drive, and again, just as with the Blu-ray disc, the quality of the image was phenomenal and I could detect no discernable difference between the copy and the disc. Furthermore, the BDP-103 played the .MKV file without so much as a hiccup, though I would’ve liked to have a better onscreen GUI when browsing network-attached storage, but that’s what the Dune is for. Even watching the trailer streaming via VUDU over my high-speed connection through the Oppo proved to be enjoyable, though more in line with the quality you’d expect from DVD upsampled to HD than true high-bit-rate HD via a Blu-ray disc. Still, for you streaming fans out there, the BDP-103 does give one hope.
In terms of sound quality, regardless of the format, the BDP-103 dished out a hell of a dynamic, textural and engaging sound experience. High frequencies were very nicely detailed and true to the source, as evident in the sound engineer’s attempts to remove sibilance and mic hiss from the outdoor scenes in Battleship. Vocals were rich and natural in their timbre, as was the BDP-103’s entire midrange for that matter – also evident in my demo of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City Music Hall on Blu-ray (Sony BMG). Bass was taut and very nicely defined throughout and the soundstage, whether it two-channel or multi, possessed solid width and depth with natural definition and space throughout. As a transport into a preamp, there is little I can find fault with in terms of the BDP-103’s sound quality. Relying on the BDP-103’s internal DACs provided similar but not identical results. There was a bit of smoothing throughout, but not much. Both setups proved the 103 to be largely (or near as makes no difference) neutral. I even enjoyed listening to Internet radio and lower-quality MP3s via the BDP-103. This should tell you everything you need to know about its sound prowess: true to the source but not overly critical of it, the way a modern player should be.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: the BDP-103 is about as flawless a product as I believe I’ve ever encountered. It does what it does exceptionally well, so its downsides are not that of fault but rather omissions. For instance, those with large user-ripped media libraries may be left out in the cold over Oppo’s decision to fold to industry pressure and thus remove ISO compatibility from the players. This isn’t entirely Oppo’s fault, for I’ve heard that any connected device that supports the ISO file format is not granted Netflix streaming compatibility, so it makes sense that Oppo would risk alienating a few for the betterment of the masses, i.e., Netflix customers. Also, in terms of accessing network-stored media, the library or list view format that Oppo employs is a bit clunky although, again, this is not entirely the company’s fault. If there was a way that Oppo could adapt or include support for third-party software, such as Zappiti, then it really could do everything.
Lastly, and this only happened once, by accidently hitting the 4K button on the remote, I locked up the player forcing me to have to do a hard restart by pulling the power cord from the back in order to shut it down. Again, it only happened once and. in subsequent tests. pressing the 4K button merely resulted in a blank screen that returned to normal once the 4K button was pushed again. Outside of those very minor issues or requests, there is little, if anything, to find fault with in terms of the BDP-103’s overall performance.
Competition and Comparisons
Prior to the BDP-103’s arrival on the scene, I would’ve said yes, yes, the Oppo universal players do have some competition in the space. I would’ve offered up Cambridge Audio’s Azur 751BD universal Blu-ray player as an example of another player that could go toe-to-toe with the Oppo. However, the Oppo player the 751BD can hang with is the BDP-95, not the BDP-103. The BDP-103 is simply in a class all its own, thanks to its new feature sets and functionality. At present, it has no competitors, though I’m confident that it will as time goes on. However, as of this writing, it is currently the best universal player on the market. For more on other universal players like the Oppo BDP-103, please check out Home Theater Review’s Blu-ray player page.
What’s left to say about the Oppo’s new BDP-103 universal Blu-ray player, except that it is currently the universal disc spinner to have and the one to beat and the fact that it doesn’t cost you an arm, leg and kidney is just icing on the cake. There isn’t anything this mighty player can’t really do outside of a few missing formats, mainly ISO, and true UltraHD compatibility. Beyond that, the BDP-103 is all the player you need and then some. It’s even an AV preamp, if you wish to get technical. So rather than hype it up more than I already have, let me just say that if you’re in the market for a new state-of-the-art universal and network-connected Blu-ray player, then the only option worth considering at this time is the $499 Oppo BDP-103. It’s simply amazing.
Read more Blu-ray and universal player reviews from Home Theater Review’s writers.
See more reviews in our HDTV Review section.
Explore pairing options in our AV Receiver and AV Preamp review section.