"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 . . .
Since the BDP-103D uses a different processing chip than the BDP-103, I also ran the player through my standard assortment of processing/deinterlacing tests to make sure its performance still makes the grade ... and it does. It passed all of the 480i and 1080i tests on the HQV and Spears & Munsil test discs and cleanly rendered my favorite demo scenes from Gladiator and The Bourne Identity on DVD. Some quick A/B comparisons between the 103 and the 103D showed that the processing chips offered virtually identical performance. According to Oppo, the reason the processing performance is so similar, despite the use of different chips, is because Oppo has moved most of the "heavy-lifting video processing works" to the main dual-core decoder chip in both the BDP-103 and 103D, so there is not much left for the Marvell or SI chip to perform. One place where there is a difference between the two chips is in the Picture Adjustments menu: The Marvell QDEO chip's color and contrast enhancement controls are gone, replaced by edge and detail enhancement, plus the ability to add video smoothing. Both players support 4K upconversion, but Oppo also mentioned that the SI VRS ClearView processor can output 4K video at a 50Hz or 60Hz frame rate over HDMI 1.4a using the new YCbCr 4:2:0 color space as defined in the HDMI 2.0 specification, which will make 4K upscaling better for content that's not originated from a 24Hz film (like 1080i concert video); the next 103D/105D firmware update will include this experimental feature.
• DVP does an excellent job improving picture clarity and depth without adding edge enhancement or crushing white/black detail.
• The Darbee button on the remote allows for quick, easy adjustments on the fly to dial in the DVP for each source.
• The Silicon Image VRS ClearView processing chip passed all of our usual processing tests, performing as well as the Marvell chip in the original BDP-103.
• The BDP-103D includes all the features we already like about the original BDP-103.
• At its higher settings, DVP can accentuate noise, add edge blurring, and create an unnaturally harsh look with facial close-ups. However, you can easily dial it back to remove those issues and still enjoy the improved detail and depth.
Comparison and Competition
The Oppo players are the first disc players to incorporate Darbee Visual Presence and are thus unique in the space. I wouldn't be surprised to see other manufacturers follow suit, though. If you already own a disc player that you love, Darbee sells standalone processors called the Darblet DVP-5000 and Cobalt DVP-4000 that lets you add the DVP effect to all your sources. The technology has also found its way into other standalone processors, including the Lumagen Radiance 20xx and the Wolf Cinema ProScaler MK V.
Most video reviewers and enthusiasts run screaming from any type of video enhancement technology, and I think most of us first greeted Darbee Visual Presence with skepticism. Darbee is making believers out of us all, though. Oppo certainly isn't a company that's prone to cramming its machines full of undesirable, potentially detrimental features just to say it has them. The company feels that DVP adds a compelling performance upgrade, and after seeing it for myself, I agree. For the serious videophile who is looking to eke out that last bit of depth and detail from the image, Darbee Visual Presence is something you need to see, and its inclusion in the Oppo BDP-103D makes the player a must-demo if you're in the market for a new universal disc player.