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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As I said above, the menu system has a clean, simple design that's easy to navigate. Disc playback is set by default to begin automatically when you insert a disc. I auditioned a number of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, including The Revenant, Sicario, The Martian, Insurgent, and Star Trek. In each case, the player had no issue passing the full-resolution HDR signal through to the LG OLED TV, even when I added my Onkyo TX-RS900 AV receiver in the middle of the chain. The demo scenes were wonderfully detailed, and playback was smooth.

I had just acquired the Magnificent Seven UHD disc when I began my review of the UDP-203, so I popped in that film to watch all the way through. It's a gorgeous UHD image, filled with vast landscapes and lots of gritty fine details, and the OPPO player did exactly what it's supposed to do--deliver the signal to my display without blemish.

Thus far, the experience of watching Ultra HD Blu-ray through a projector has been a little less plug-and-play than it is through a TV. When I recently reviewed the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB, it originally could not pass HDR from the Samsung UBD-K8500, but a firmware update on the Samsung end fixed the issue. I was curious to see if I'd encounter a similar problem with the OPPO. What I discovered was that the OPPO successfully passed the HDR signal to the Epson from the get-go, but a look at the Epson's Info page showed that it was only displaying an 8-bit HDR signal when the OPPO was set for Auto resolution output.

My OPPO rep suggested that, since the Epson is really a 1080p projector that happens to receive UHD/HDR signals, it could be causing some confusion between the two and that I should move away from the Auto resolution mode and set up a custom mode instead. The UDP-203 remote has a helpful Info button that, if you press and hold it, reveals the exact specs of the media you're playing. Every UHD BD disc I've tested thus far has a 3,840 x 2,160p/24 resolution with BT.2020 color and a 10-bit YCbCr 4:2:0 image. So, I set up a custom mode for a UHD 24Hz resolution, 10-bit color depth, and YCbCr 4:2:0 color space, and that did the trick. From that point on, the Epson displayed the incoming signal appropriately. (For what it's worth, the Samsung passed the signal just fine once I did the firmware update.) Such is the nature of the compatibility beast in these early UHD times.

Overall, the UDP-203 served up every disc type I fed it--Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD, and DVD-Audio--without hiccup. Its video processing is top-notch. It passed all of the processing/cadence tests on the HQV Benchmark and Spears & Munsil test discs, both with 480i and 1080i signals. Since I reviewed this player over the holidays, I popped in my old Miracle on 34th Street DVD and watched it all the way through; I'm not a fan of the DVD's colorization of the black-and-white film classic, but I found no fault with the UDP-203's handling of the disc. I saw no jaggies or moire, and the level of detail was as a good as can be expected for the DVD transfer.

I also performed some speed comparisons with the Samsung UBD-K8500 player. The Samsung proved to be just a little faster, both in power-up and loading of all disc types--but we're talking a difference of a few seconds here or there. For example, the aforementioned Magnificent Seven disc took 24 seconds (from disc load to studio logo) on the Samsung and 27 seconds on the Oppo. The Martian took 18 seconds on the Samsung and 24 on the Oppo. Both players are much faster than the Philips BDP7501, which is more sluggish in most every aspect: disc loading, power-up, and general navigation. The UDP-203 is in energy saving mode by default; if you really have a patience problem, you can shave a couple seconds off the power-up time by switching to the network standby mode, which is also the preferred setting if you plan to use IP control to power on the player.

In the main menu, the Music, Photos, and Movies sections are where you'll access your personal media files, connected via the USB ports (or stored on a disc). The USB ports accept thumb drives and full-fledged servers; the front port is USB 2.0, while the two back-panel ports are USB 3.0. File support is strong. With music, AIFF, WAV, FLAC, MP3, ALAC, AAC, and WMA are all supported. I loaded a couple 24/96 HDTracks samplers in the FLAC and AIFF formats on a USB thumb drive and had no issue with playback. The player supports playback of DSD files stored on USB: it supports stereo DSD64 and DSD128 and multichannel DSD64. On the video end, it supports MP4, M4V, MOV, AVI, AVC HD, and more. I popped in the Digital Video Essentials UHD USB stick and ran through both video and photo tests; the UDP-203 successfully passed the full UHD resolution video in both the H.264 and HEVC formats, and it also passed UHD resolution in photos--although it did appear to be cropping the photos just a bit.

The Network menu is where you'll find a list of any compatible media servers on your home network. The UDP-203 supports the DLNA, SMB/CIFS, and NFS network protocols, and I had no trouble playing music, photo, and movie files stored on my Seagate DLNA NAS drive. The interface for all media files is clean and intuitive--it's not particularly eye-catching, but it's faster and more intuitive than what you get on many basic Blu-ray players that treat this function as an afterthought. The interface provides helpful thumbnails of album art (when available), photos, etc. You can display your music files by folder, song, artist, album, genre, or playlist. Using the remote's Option button, you can easily craft playlists or add songs to the Favorites section. Classical music fans will appreciate the ability to enable gapless playback through the Options tool.

Last but not least, I tested the pass-through of a second source through the UDP-203's HDMI input. Strangely, when I first tried connecting the Roku and Amazon boxes, the player would not let me pass a 4K resolution. It forced me to configure these boxes in 1080p mode. Out of curiosity, I tried connecting the Samsung UHD player to the OPPO's HDMI input and was able to pass the 4K signal just fine. When I went back to the Roku and Amazon boxes after that, they passed 4K, too. I'm not sure what kind of communication/handshake issue was going on there, but it worked itself out. At first, there was an obvious AV sync issue with all three sources I passed through the OPPO; but, after experimentation with the audio delay adjustment in the UDP-203's setup menu, I was able to align the audio and video. The OPPO remote includes an Input button at the top that allows you to switch between the player itself, the HDMI input source, and the Audio Return Channel (ARC) signal coming back from your TV. That last option provides another way to integrate streaming services into the OPPO interface, if you purchased a smart TV (and chances are high that, if you own a UHD TV, it's also a smart TV).

The Downside
Overall, the UDP-203's stability and reliability were very good, but I did encounter a few glitches during my time with it. As I detailed above, there were some HDMI issues--from the input that wouldn't originally pass 4K to the communication problem with the Epson. A couple times, when resuming playback of a UHD disc, I got a black screen on my TV. I had to stop the disc and restart it to get the picture back. And the player froze on me twice when I inserted a disc. I've had minor issues with every new UHD player I've tested so far. The good news is, OPPO has consistently proven itself to be a company that responds to user feedback and puts out regular firmware updates to improve performance, so I think it's fair to assume that the reliability will continually improve as this brand new player has a chance to evolve.

If you really want an all-in-one media hub, the lack of integrated streaming services might be a disappointment. As I said above, most UHD TVs are smart TVs, so these services are probably already available to you via HDMI ARC. Frankly, I'd rather use a Roku or Amazon Fire box anyhow, so their omission is fine with me.

Comparison & Competition
Price-wise, the Panasonic DMP-UB900 is the primary competitor to the UDP-203. Both are targeted at the higher-end enthusiast; like the OPPO, the Panasonic has better build quality and adds 7.1-channel analog audio outputs. It's also THX-certified and includes Netflix/YouTube/Web browsing services, but it doesn't support SACD/DVD-Audio playback, and it does not appear to be upgradeable to support Dolby Vision.

Other competitors that we've already discussed include the Samsung UBD-K8500 and the Philips BDP7501. Microsoft's Xbox One S is another option, if you want a gaming console. Prices start at $299. According to CNET's review, the console's HDR setup and playback were finicky, and it won't pass bitstream audio, which means no support for Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

OPPO Digital has a long and successful track record in producing high-quality Blu-ray players. My BDP-103 is still going strong, and so is its predecessor, the BDP-93. The new UDP-203 seems poised to carry that tradition into the new Ultra HD Blu-ray era. The UDP-203 is well-built, fully featured player with universal disc playback, an HDMI input, USB media support, and multichannel analog outputs for the more discerning audio fan. It's also the first player to hit the market that is "Dolby Vision ready," making it more future-proof than its current competitors. If you're just looking for a basic Ultra HD Blu-ray player to mate with your new UHD TV, then it may not be worth it to step up in price to the $550 UDP-203--especially if your UHD TV doesn't support Dolby Vision (and most don't). If, on the other hand, you're looking for a more complete media hub to support playback of the highest-quality disc formats in both the video and audio realms, as well as a good network/USB player for your personal media collection, then the OPPO UDP-203 is an excellent choice.

Additional Resources
� Check out our Blu-ray Player category page to read similar reviews.
Oppo Gives Official Description of UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player at HomeTheaterReview.com.
� Visit the Oppo Digital website for more product information.

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