Oppo Digital crafts a new standard in Blu-ray media players
By Jim Bray
Who'd have thought that, in an age of sub $100 Blu-ray players, you could spend $1100 on a player and actually save money doing it?
Well, it would depend on what equipment you have already, of course, but if you're starting from scratch or doing a major upgrade, you could not only use Oppo Digital's fantastic new machine to play all of your media, you could use it as your preamplifier/processor as well, and thereby save yourself the expense of buying a dedicated pre/pro.
And depending on what you'd have bought as a pre/pro, that could add up financially; heck, the lovely Rotel RSP-1572 I'm using currently lists for $2200, and you can spend a lot more than that.
But thanks to the inputs Oppo chose to put on the BDP-105, coupled with its switching capabilities, audio and video processing power, speaker balance adjustments, volume control – and more (there's even a headphone jack) – you could easily just plug the thing into your amplifier(s) and be done with it.
See, it's actually a steal!
Oppo Digital has a history of making excellent products whose prices belie their performance. It seems as if every time I think they've reached the limit of what can be crammed into a single player they come out with a new one that ups the ante again, in ways I'd never considered. Such, obviously, is the case with the BDP-105 – a heavyweight performer in every way including its heavy (17.3 lbs) weight; heck, I've played with A/V receivers that don't have the BDP-105's heft (though, to be fair, they weren't in the same performance league, either).
This virtually constant upping of its own ante, other than the buyers' remorse it might put into owners of previous Oppo products, is actually pretty neat because each new generation is a substantial step forward rather than just a minor upgrade. And in the Oppo tradition, the BDP-105's pre/pro capabilities aren't the only things that should make this player "lustafterable" by audio and videophiles.
Nope, the 105 also offers high definition up conversion – not only in that it will bring older, lower resolution video sources up to full 1080p output, but it will also actually take that 1080p output and up convert it to 4K, the next high definition video standard. 4K, which right now is rare and expensive, promises four times the resolution of 1080p (to 3840 x 2160 pixels). How's that for "forward compatibility?"
Unfortunately, I haven't had access to a 4K television while using the BDP-105, so can't actually tell you how it works or how it looks. That said, I know Oppo's track record and have no doubt the player works as advertised in this regard.
I have seen the results of its up converting of standard definition sources to 1080p, however, and it does a superb job. For example, I watched the special edition DVD of "The Right Stuff" – one of my all-time favorite movies – and the BDP-105 not only upscaled it to 1080p beautifully, it also sent the video info to my projector at 24 frames per second.
Sure, I never forgot that it was "only" a DVD and not a Blu-ray disc, but the result was easily good enough to tide me over until Warner Brothers gets off its corporate duff and releases the world class BD I'm holding my breath for. Caleb Deschanel's beautiful cinematography looked fantastic; colors were rich and deep, and the picture was detailed, sharp and bright. And the Right Stuff isn't even the best DVD I have when it comes to A/V quality!
Performing the video processing is Marvell's (which may explain why it's so "Marvellous") Kyoto-G2H video processor using the latest generation Qdeo technology. According to Oppo, Qdeo video processing renders quiet, natural, noise-and-artifact-free video, and it definitely seems to work. While "The Right Stuff" looked great for a DVD (which means you can still enjoy your DVD's instead of having to throw them away and rebuild your library from scratch – assuming all the titles are available), Blu-ray content looks stunning; the picture coming out of the BDP-105 was nothing short of amazing.
If you're moving away from disc-based content, the Oppo is your answer as well, offering features such as video noise reduction, compression artifact reduction, "intelligent color," and contrast, detail and edge enhancement for whatever source you run through it.
I played some USB drive-based high definition files I had, running them back to back with Blu-ray versions and if we hadn't run them back to back we would never have noticed the difference. This should make fans of streaming or downloads who are worried about playback quality rest a little more easily.
Remember, the "garbage in, garbage out" equation, though; while the Oppo does a superb job of making silk purses out of video sows' ears, it isn't an exorcist. I noticed this on some Netflix programming, the quality of which seems to be all over the map.
The BDP-105 will output in whatever resolution you want, from 480i right up to 4K and if you use the "source direct" setting it'll pass the picture along to your display device in its original format. This is meant to facilitate use of an external video processor, which is a nice bit of flexibility, but the Oppo's performance is so outstanding I can't see anyone other than the extremely well heeled and anally retentive videophile needing it.
On the other hand, I was having some really bad handshaking problems that seemed worse when playing SACD, DVD-Audio and BD Audio discs at 1080p output (or on "auto") and Source Direct helped here. It didn't eliminate the handshaking problems completely, but it made them a lot more tolerable.
I eventually solved the issue by installing a new HDMI cable, and now I just leave the Oppo on "automatic" all the time. It works great.
The BDP-105 also supports multiple aspect ratios and has several zoom settings, so you can watch a movie in its original aspect ratio, fit it to the full screen, or zoom it in to remove the black bars. Heavy duty videophiles who have a 2.35:1 CIH (Constant Image Height) display might enjoy the player's vertical stretch mode, which should work well if your projector has an anamorphic lens. Not only that, but a "subtitle shift" lets you move the subtitles up or down, so you can see all the text with a 2.35:1 CIH display. If you like keeping a program at its original aspect ratio, you don't have to worry about this but, once again, it's a nice bit of flexibility for those who want it.
Naturally, the BDP-105 also offers 3D playback, as well as 2D to 3D conversion. About the only thing it doesn't do is go get you a beer!
Maybe that'll be on the next generation.
There's plenty more, but rather than this review turn into a novel, suffice it to say that when it comes to video performance, the BDP is simply outstanding. I'd say it's worth the price just for this, but we haven't even started talking about audio, connectivity, and the like.
So let's deal with the audio. The Oppo uses SABRE reference audio digital-to-analog converters (DAC's), which the company proclaims as "the world's best performing 32-bit audio DAC solution targeted for high-end consumer applications and professional studio equipment." So you get a dynamic range of up to 135 decibels and total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) of -120 dB, both of which are outstanding figures.
The BDP-105 uses two separate DAC chips, one for the 7.1 channel output (I used it as a 5.1 source), and one for its dedicated stereo output. And you can send your stereo audio to your preamp/amp via balanced XLR connectors as well as the conventional RCA jacks. This makes the Oppo ideal for audiophile surround and stereo sound sources – and even professional applications. You can use the BDP-105 to send 7.1 signals via HDMI, or use the analog outputs – the latter of which are what you'd use to bypass a pre/pro, by patching them directly into the amp(s).
Audio performance is as good as the video. Again, the Oppo won't take an old, hissy tape and make it sound like a lossless BD soundtrack, but all things considered this player performs the way you'd expect an $1100 player to. Or maybe even one more expensive than that. And of course it decodes pretty well everything, from the lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio (delivered either via the analog or HDMI 1.4a outputs and output either as bit-stream or LPCM) to Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio and DTS Digital Surround, as well as older formats such as Dolby Pro-Logic, basic DTS, etc. It'll also play MP3's FLAC's and many other formats. I have yet to find one of my files that it won't play.
As far as other flexibility features are concerned, the BDP-105 comes with dual HDMI outputs that support the Audio Return Channel (ARC, for TV's that also have the feature). So you can send picture and/or sound to a pair of displays or – and this is how I use it – output directly to the HD monitor with one HDMI output while using the other to connect the Oppo to the pre/pro, which in turn is connected to a small LCD monitor.
I use the LCD to access the on screen menus of the Oppo and the Rotel, as well as the menus on BD and DVD-Audio discs. It means I don't have to fire up the big projector and use up bulb life unnecessarily if I'm merely tweaking the system or listening to audio only sources.
The dual outputs also mean you can send 3D signals to a 3D monitor even if your pre/pro is old enough that it doesn't allow 3D passthrough. This is a nice bit of obsolescence fighting. You can also send signals to a different room.
And if you have a smart device, you can just plug it into the front HDMI port and use its Mobile High-definition Link (MHL) compatibility to not only get the content from the device to your screen, but also to charge the smart device at the same time.
As if that isn't enough flexibility, there are three USB 2.0 ports as well, one on the front and two on the back panel. You can use these to play audio, video and/or photo files stored on a USB drive. There's also network connectivity – with a very easy setup routine – that lets you access your home network (I stream music and video to it) as well as to access the Internet, so you can also take advantage of BD Live features.
Oppo also builds in Netflix and VUDU HD streaming capability. VUDU isn't available where I live, but Netflix is and the BDP-105 does a better job of accessing it than the last player I tried. You can also access services such as Pandora, Cinema Now and Rhapsody.
The BDP-105's built in switching capability means you can access its many inputs from the remote control, using its on screen menu. This, besides being another way to get around needing a pre/pro, prompted me to plug my satellite receiver into the Oppo's rear HDMI input to see how that would work.
I've never been happy with the HD output from the satellite receiver, but when I unleashed the Oppo's processing power on it, the difference was noticeable immediately: some HD movies that left a bit to be desired before being "Oppoized" suddenly came to life; they still weren't Blu-ray quality, but they were head and shoulders better than when they weren't going through the BDP-105.
The remote control is backlit, and it's laid out and labelled well. The new connectivity and other features meant a bit of a redesign of the layout, but it's minor and easy to learn.
Oppo has dumped all the analog video outputs from the BDP-105, but this shouldn't concern most people because HDMI rules the video roost. There are analog audio outputs, though – optical, coax and the abovementioned RCA connectors) – which gives extra backward compatibility for those whose receivers or pre/pros don't have HDMI or analog inputs.
Obviously, the Oppo BDP-105 isn't for everyone. Its price alone will scare many people away, but if you take your audio and video seriously and have a horse you want to choke with features and benefits, then this is definitely a unit you should check out.
If you find $1100 too dear, take a look at the BDP-103, which should offer the same type of excellent performance and flexibility that have made Oppo famous – and for a mere $499. I haven't tried it, but if I were a betting man I'd wager it's a steal for that price.
But if you can justify the extra cash, the BDP-105 will put a huge smile on your face.
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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