Audiophile cult favorite Oppo Digital has just entered the Blu-ray market with their much anticipated BDP-83 player. For the past several years, Oppo has been providing the market with very affordable DVD players, which have offered performance that competes with much more expensive "high-end" units. While most audiophile companies are sitting on the sidelines, Oppo has stepped right up and made an industry statement by being the first to market in the specialty space.
The Oppo BDP-83 differentiates itself from the majority of other players on the market by its ability to play nearly every type of traditional five-inch disc. This alone easily justifies its $499 price, a small premium over the majority of Blu-ray players currently on the market. The BDP-83 can play Blu-ray, CD, DVD, SACD, DVD-Audio, AVCHD, Kodak Picture and HDCD-encoded discs, as well as several re-writable versions of these. In short, this one player will likely let you open up a bunch of space in your equipment rack by getting rid of all of your other old disc players. Even the latest top of the line Sony ES Blu-ray player, at $2,000, fails to play SACD and DVD-Audio in their native HD resolutions. Did I mention the Oppo is $499?
I signed up for the Oppo BDP-83 "early adopter program" and finally obtained a unit when my name got to the top of the list. I have updated the player's firmware to the most current version and the unit tested here should now be the same as the final production models, to the best of my knowledge. Oppo has been releasing firmware updates and I strongly recommend that purchasers of the BDP-83 check to make sure that they have the latest firmware for their player.
The BDP-83 comes nicely packaged. Opening the box, I found the player well secured within an Oppo branded cloth carrying case and foam padding. As with most players, the BDP-83 comes with a manual, remote control, batteries for the remote, power cable and inexpensive analog cables. Impressively, Oppo throws in a decent quality six-foot HDMI cable and the Spears & Munsil High-Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition set-up disc.
The unit is a slim line unit measuring a little over 16 inches wide, 13-and-a-quarter inches deep and three inches high, weighing a solid 11 pounds. Build quality is very solid and noticeably better than the majority of the mass-market players. The front panel is divided into thirds, with the outer panels made out of brushed metal. The center panel has a drawer mounted below the display. The left panel has a small power button and IR window. The right panel has a drawer open/close button and transport control buttons arranged in a round iPod style disc format, with a covered USB port at the right edge of the unit. The rear panel features 7.1- and two-channel analog audio outputs, Toslink and coaxial digital audio outputs, composite and component analog video outputs, HDMI, Ethernet, a second USB port and a two-prong (ungrounded) IEC power plug. Lastly, control connections include IR input and output connections and an optional RS-232 connector.
The BDP-83, in addition to playing nearly every video format other than HD DVD (hurry up and trade those discs in with Warner's Red to Blu program), is a full-featured Blu-ray player with BonusVIEW and BD-Live capabilities built in. The player's video capabilities include Anchor Bay Technologies' Video Reference Series (VRS) technology. The output resolution is selectable from 480i through 1080p at either 50 or 60Hz. The BDP-83 can produce a true 1080p, 24 frames per second video signal from Blu-ray and, even more notably, from DVD. The BDP-83 can also output an unprocessed video signal in "source direct" mode, so the video processor of your choice handles all processing. The HDMI output is v1.3 and supports both 30 and 36-bit Deep Color for you "future format" guys out there. Lastly, for those with constant image height set-ups, the BDP-83 can do the necessary processing internally.
As it is a universal disc player, I would expect the BDP-83 to be able to handle a wide variety of audio formats, and it does so, while others in its class and price much higher do not. The player can internally decode all of the popular surround sound formats, including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS-HD High Resolution. Users also have the option of selecting either LPCM or Bitstream digital outputs. The 5.1/7.1 and stereo analog outputs use different DACs, with higher-quality DACs utilized for the dedicated stereo output.
The BDP-83's feature set, other than the ability to stream media from an outside source like Netflix, is extremely complete. The player is a full-profile 2.0 unit, supporting BD-Live and BonusVIEW without need for any additional memory or other additions. In today's society, with families storing pictures and video on a variety of digital formats, the BDP-83 shines in its ability to support many of these file formats via either the disc or USB media formats.
I used the BDP-83 in a variety of systems. I first used the BDP-83 with a few different Panasonic and Sharp flat panel televisions. These connections were made via HDMI. While I did not do any of my critical viewing or listening with these set-ups, I note them as the Oppo worked easily with them minus any fuss. I briefly installed the Oppo in my dedicated two-channel system, which consists of a Conrad Johnson CT-5 preamplifier driving a Halcro DM-38 amplifier and MartinLogan Summit speakers. All cabling was Kimber Select, though the BDP-83 spent most of its time in my reference theater system.
I connected the Oppo BDP-83 to my Marantz AV-8003 preamplifier/processor via HDMI and analog 5.1. Other relevant components include a Marantz MM-8003 amplifier, Marantz VP-11S2 projector and a MartinLogan Summit/Stage/Descent i speaker system. All cables were from Kimber, with the exception of the 5.1 cables. The 5.1 cables were comprised of three pairs of Ultralink's Platinum series interconnects.
I specifically ordered the RS-232 option, which allowed me to connect the BDP-83 to my Universal Remote Control MSC-400. Had I not ordered the RS-232 option (a feature strongly preferred by all of the integrators I have worked with), the BDP-83 still offers external IR in and out ports. The IR ports, while not the first choice of most integrators, are still much more reliable than the common IR emitter systems. Oppo does a fine job of providing the connectivity and control options found on the BDP-83.
Once I had the BDP-83 installed in my theater system, I had to set up the unit. The BDP-83 has a set-up program called the "Easy Setup Wizard." I found the Easy Setup Wizard to be informative and easy to use. Walking through the program, I had all the settings made for my system in a matter of a few minutes. I also took the opportunity to review the manual and found it to be well-written and informative. While most of the information contained in the manual may be common knowledge to home theater aficionados, those new to the world of audio-video equipment are likely to find the manual informative and useful.
Oppo was kind enough to include a copy of Spears & Munsil's High-Definition Benchmark, Blu-ray Edition. This disc includes many of the standard, most commonly used calibration patterns, along with some unique variations on them. I used the disc to confirm the choices made by the Setup Wizard and to adjust the picture settings. The BDP-83 provides a full menu of picture setting options, which allow the user to optimize the picture for this source component. I appreciate when manufacturers include this capability on source components. When each source component is individually optimized, it is not necessary to change picture settings on your display device every time you change inputs. (Note: the recently reviewed Onkyo TX-NR906 receiver provides individual video calibration for each source.)
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As the BDP-83 performs so many audio video feats, I will begin with two-channel audio and work my way up to high-definition video. My stereo listening was done using the Oppo's stereo analog outputs. I listened to a variety of CDs. One disc that I have been listening to lately is Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol Records/Mobile Fidelity). I immediately noticed that low beats in the opening of "Breathe" were reproduced with significant weight and perhaps with slightly more emphasis than on my reference Classé CDP-202 CD player. "Money" features some well-known guitar work that I have become intimately familiar with and often listen to when evaluating gear. The guitars were detailed and tonally accurate, though they lacked the weight and ambience of my reference player. The difference was not sizable and the Oppo did an overall great job. It displays more than 90 percent of the audiophile performance of my much more expensive reference Classé player, and I would not recommend sticking a DVD-Audio, SACD or Blu-ray disc into the Classé in any event. The soundstage was appropriately wide, with good placement of the individual images horizontally. The stage depth was slightly cropped off, compared to the big-dollar audiophile CD players. Vocals sounded natural and were free from any chestiness, lisps or other colorations. I continued to listen to male vocals with Jeff Buckley's Live at Sine album, specifically the track "Hallelujah." A careful evaluation of this track through the Oppo revealed many of the characteristics I heard while using the BDP-83 as a CD player. The Oppo never inserted any annoying digital artifacts and does a better job with CDs than do 99 percent of DVD or "universal" players on the market.
Audiophiles should not despair. The BDP-83 can also play DVD-Audio and SACD discs. I listened to one of my favorite DVD-Audio discs, R.E.M.'s album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 (Warner Bros.). I did my listening using the analog outputs unless otherwise noted. "Man On The Moon" does a great job showing off Michael Stipe's voice. Despite the lesser DACs on the Oppo's multi-channel outputs, the sound was portrayed with great detail, reproducing Stipe's inflections and conveying a sense of emotion. The instrumentals were reproduced with a good sense of weight and space. Overall, I found the Oppo to do a much better job on DVD-Audio discs than did my long-owned Kenwood Sovereign Entre and DV-5900M. The Oppo sounded much more natural and three-dimensional and was almost indiscernible from my reference DVD-Audio player, the Marantz DV-9600. For those who have a processor with high-quality DACs, I recommend experimenting by comparing the Oppo's analog and digital HDMI outputs. I found that, by using the BDP-83 as a transport with my processor's DACs, I was able to increase the performance level.
"These Foolish Things" from The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy Jazz) features Paul Desmond on the alto saxophone. Listening to this piece, I found the texture to be pretty impressive. The Oppo reproduced the sound with speed and good balance. The saxophone was never harsh, while remaining lively and involving. "Stardust" continues to feature the saxophone and adds Brubeck on the piano. There was a good sense of rhythm and pace with balance between the instruments, which had a sense of body on the soundstage. In comparing the Oppo BDP-83 to my much more expensive Halcro EC-800 player, the Halcro added even more texture and presence to the recording. However, as with DVD-Audio discs, the Oppo does a great job. The high-end audiophile players just go a bit further with their reproduction capabilities. For those with processors equipped with good DACs who want to extract even more performance, the HDMI output, particularly when the output is set to PCM, can equal the performance I was able to get out of all the other SACD transports I used for comparison.
I used the excuse of reviewing the Oppo to watch an old favorite, Heat (DVD - Warner Home Video). While I enjoy this movie, I usually shun the DVDs in my collection in favor of high-definition alternatives. The Oppo BDP-83's VRS video processing may make me change my habits. Even the best video processors are not going to make standard definition the equal of well-transferred high definition, but the BDP-83 sure can narrow the chasm between the two. The audio through the HDMI output was solid and as well-defined as on any other DVD player I have auditioned in recent memory. The video was even better. I normally prefer the Gennum VXP video processor in my projector to those in the source components that come through my system, but the Oppo's VRS held its own. The Oppo did a great job with the difficult-to-render shadow details when De Niro is hiding in the shadows while being watched by the police stakeout team. The colors and shading were natural and properly subdued. The frenetic gun battle scene in downtown Los Angeles is filled with lots of rapid movement and straight lines, which can be very difficult for some video processors to handle, but the Oppo had no problems and I did not notice any processing artifacts.
The Oppo BDP-83's ability to play CDs, DVDs, SACDs and DVD-Audio discs and play them well is a huge plus. The main reason I wanted the player is to play Blu-rays. If the Oppo could not do this well, the rest of its accomplishments would not really matter to me. I played Transformers (Paramount Home Entertainment, Blu-ray), an action-packed blockbuster that I wanted to see again before viewing the sequel in the theater. The disc is BD-Live equipped. I had no problems using the BD-Live features and even found them to be mildly interesting. The video was stunning, richly detailed and vibrant. Those of you who have seen this movie know that it is filled with lots of bright colors and fast-paced action. The images were very sharp without any unnatural ringing. The colors of the machines were vibrant and the flesh tones and the greens of the foliage never had unnatural exaggerated coloration. I could discern a small difference in video quality between the BDP-83 and the Sony Playstation 3 I had been using as my Blu-ray player and liked the BDP-83's image better. Both players did a good job with video detail, but I found the colors to be more natural with the Oppo. The Oppo is also the first Blu-ray player I have had in my system that had a loading speed comparable to the PS3. Finally, the Oppo's control and connectivity options were much better than those of the PS3.
Performance-wise, I have no criticisms of the Oppo BDP-83, which is an amazing statement, considering the player's low price and ambitious list of performance features. Yes, the audiophile in me would have liked to see the inclusion of better analog audio circuits, but I realize that this player was not designed to be a cost-no-object, reference-grade audio source. While preparing this article, I did see that there are options for those seeking such an audiophile player. Companies like Modwright are now offering upgrades, which might be interesting to explore. I have to keep reminding myself that the player is $499 when comparing it to players more than 10 times its retail price tag.
The aesthetics of the remote supplied with the Oppo did not match those of the unit itself. As the remote is the main source of contact with the unit, and I suspect that most units at this price point will not have a custom-programmed touch panel, I would have liked a nicer remote to have been included or at least sold as an option at a slightly higher cost.
Functionally, I would like to have seen the inclusion of one of the streaming services. This feature is becoming more prevalent on players and I think it would be appropriate in a universal disc player that is otherwise able to consolidate so many sources into one box. This said, one can get an Apple TV, which provides even better streaming capabilities than any of the streaming Blu-ray players I have seen or tested to date, albeit with the cost of another box and the associated clutter.
The Oppo BDP-83 is a great player that does a lot and does it really well. This single unit replaces the need for separate high-quality CD, DVD, SACD, DVD-A and Blu-ray players. The BDP-83's analog audio outputs are extremely good, pushing the border of reference grade at an entry-level price. Its multi-channel digital audio outputs are just as good as those of any other player or transport I have had in my system. As for video, the Oppo's performance is phenomenal. Other, more expensive players have equaled the Oppo's video performance in my system, but none have surpassed it. I bought mine and am happy to have it. You might buy one, too, as the cost can easily be justified with the eBaying of any number of SACD, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, HD DVD and/or CD player products in your system. Hell, in this tough economy, you might come out with not just a better Blu-ray and disc player, but a few hundred extra dollars in your pocket.