OPPO Digital UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Reviewed

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OPPO Digital UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Reviewed

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Oppo-UDP-203-225x126.jpgA new Ultra HD Blu-ray player has hit the market, in the form of OPPO Digital's UDP-203. For those who are keeping track, that brings the grand total to five. We've previously reviewed the Samsung UBD-K8500 and Philips BDP7501; there's also the Microsoft Xbox One S gaming console and Panasonic's DMP-UB900. Priced at $549.99, the new UDP-203 joins the $600 Panasonic player at the higher end of the price spectrum. The Samsung and Philips players are now selling for $200 to $250, which begs the question: what does the higher-priced OPPO player offer that the others do not?

Well, for one thing, the UDP stands for "universal disc player." Like previous OPPO Blu-ray offerings, this one supports playback of the SACD and DVD-Audio high-resolution audio formats, in addition to the Ultra HD Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, and CD formats. It includes a high-quality AKM DAC and multichannel analog audio outputs, with a Pure Audio mode, to appeal more to the audio crowd. It's also designed to serve as a media hub, with three USB ports for media playback and an HDMI input to pass through a second AV source.

Like its competitors, the UDP-203 supports the HDR10 High Dynamic Range format and can pass up to 12-bit color and the BT.2020 color space. It doesn't currently support playback of Dolby Vision HDR content, but OPPO says that the necessary hardware is in place inside the player, to be activated via a firmware update sometime in early 2017. Dolby Vision requires special hardware; it can't just be done through a software update, which means those early players that don't support Dolby Vision can't be upgraded to do so.

Unlike the other UHD offerings and previous OPPO players like the BDP-103, the UDP-203 does not include streaming services like Netflix, VUDU, YouTube, Pandora, and Rhapsody. The company explains the decision like this: "In order to provide a premium user experience with quick start-up times and fast response, the UDP-203 is designed with a purist approach in mind for disc and file playback, and so it does not carry internet video and music streaming apps." However, it does contain 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet to support network media streaming, firmware updates, and IP control.

Speaking of control, the player offers both RS-232 and trigger in/out ports, as well as front- and back-panel IR sensors so that, if you must use an IR cable for control purposes, you can hide it around back instead of having it hang clumsily in front of your gear. It's little touches like these that elevate the UDP-203 and provide a flexibility that the lower-priced players lack.

One final way in which the UDP-203 distinguishes itself is in its build quality. It's a larger, more substantial piece of hardware than the Samsung and Philips players, with a thicker, sturdier steel chassis and solid brushed-aluminum front face, four isolation feet, and a large front-panel display. Its form factor is basically identical to that of the BDP-103 that has served as my reference player for many years now: It measures 16.9 by 12.2 by 3.1 inches and weighs 9.5 pounds. There are a couple differences up front: the center-oriented disc tray has been moved up slightly to make room for the larger front-panel display directly below it, and gone is the MHL/HDMI input found on the BDP-103's front face.

Oppo-UDP-203-back.jpgThe Hookup
Moving around to the back of the UDP-203, you'll find two HDMI outputs: The main output is HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 copy protection to send the 4K video signal (and accompanying audio) to your UHD-capable display or AV receiver. The second output is for audio only, allowing you to mate the UDP-203 with an older audio processor that lacks 4K/HDR pass-through. I tested the OPPO with several 4K displays--the LG 65EF9500 OLED TV, the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB projector, and the older Samsung UN65HU8550 LED/LCD TV. Sometimes I fed the video signal directly into the displays; other times, I passed both video and audio through an Onkyo TX-RS900 AV receiver.

Both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs are also included to improve compatibility with older audio processors, powered speakers, and soundbars (the Samsung only has optical digital, and the Philips has neither option), as well as the aforementioned 7.1-channel analog audio outputs.

The back panel's HDMI input is HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, which means it will accept up to a 4K/60 signal but it doesn't currently support HDR pass-through. (My OPPO rep says this function could be added at a later date, but that has not yet been determined.) This HDMI input could be beneficial in two ways. First, if your display device only has one HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 input (like many projectors), you can run a second 4K source through the UDP-203 and then run a single cable to your display. Second, you could connect a streaming media stick or player directly into the OPPO to deliver streaming services in a more integrated fashion. I connected several sources to the HDMI input during the course of my review, including a Hopper 3 HD DVR, a Roku 4, and an Amazon Fire TV 4K box. None of these boxes supports HDR anyhow, so the inability to pass it was not a concern. Currently, the major streaming media players that support HDR are the Roku Ultra and the NVIDIA Shield.

As with the player itself, the supplied IR remote looks nearly identical to that of previous OPPO offerings, with just a few minor tweaks. This is full-fledged remote with buttons for pretty much every function you could want--including home, top menu, pop-up menu, info, pure audio, setup, subtitle, zoom, resolution, and separate track-skip and rewind/fast-forward buttons (the Samsung combines these functions on the same buttons, which can make for a frustrating user experience). More buttons means less trips into the onscreen interface, which I appreciate. The new remote adds motion-sensitive backlighting, so the buttons automatically illuminate when you pick it up.

The initial power-up took only about 10 seconds, and the first thing that caught my attention was the new user interface. Gone is OPPO's classic black screen with the various icons arranged in two rows. Now, there's a single row of menu options running along the bottom of the screen: seven options for Disc/No Disc, Music, Photos, Movies, Network, Setup, and Favorites. Each menu option is accompanied by a gorgeous hi-res photo in the background. It's very clean but attractive design that's also easy to navigate.

The Setup menu has the same basic design and navigation as previous OPPO players, and this is where you can make a variety of AV adjustments to mate the player to your system. And I do mean a variety, as there are lot more options here to tailor both the video and audio output than you'll see in the lower-priced players. Thankfully, many of these video and audio options are set to "Auto" out of the box, so the UDP-203 should work nicely with any display, receiver, etc. to which you connect it.

On the video side, you can set the player's resolution for Auto (to automatically match your TV) or Source Direct (to output every disc at its native resolution), but there's also a newly added Custom mode, which allows you to designate a resolution anywhere from 480i up to UHD 60 Hz. Along with that, you can designate a specific color space (RGB Video level, RGB PC level, YCbCr 4:4:4, YCbCr 4:2:2, or YCbCr 4:2:0) and color depth (8-, 10-, or 12-bit) and set HDR for on, off, or "strip metadata." Again, these are all set to Auto out of the box, which worked great to send a UHD HDR signal to my LG TV. However, the flexibility to tweak the settings would prove beneficial when I mated this player with the Epson projector (more on this in the Performance section).

One important setup note: Many UHD TVs require you to enable UHD Deep Color to pass the full bit depth and color space that are possible with an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. You can do this in the TV's Video or Picture setup menu. The LG TV that I use has a setting in the Picture menu called HDMI ULTRA HD Deep Color, and you can enable it per input. When I first connected the OPPO player to the LG TV, it would not pass an HDR signal--then I remembered that I had turned off the LG's Deep Color for a previous test. Once I turned it back on, the player passed HDR without issue to the LG TV.

On the audio side, the UDP-203 has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, and you can pass bitstream audio output to send Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to your AV receiver. The player's HDMI audio output is set to Auto by default, or you can lock it in to bitstream or PCM. Should you opt to use the analog outputs instead, the player uses the eight-channel AKM 32-bit AK4458VN DAC chipset. You can adjust the DAC's filter characteristics; and, just like with previous players, you can do a complete 7.1-channel speaker configuration, setting crossover, size, level, and distance for each speaker. For this review, I stuck with digital output through HDMI. Audiophiles might be interested to know that OPPO intends to introduce a step-up, audiophile-oriented version of this player that will basically replace the current BDP-105. We don't know the exact release date or pricing for that model yet.

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

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