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Oppo DVD-970HDOppo DVD-970HD DVD player – a lot of bang for the buck.

By Jim Bray

There are plenty of DVD players on the market these days that up convert ordinary DVD's to the high definition realm, but I haven't come across another that offers the quality, features and flexibility of the Oppo DVD-970HD.

I kid you not: for 150 American greenbacks this thing does just about everything you could want from a home theater disc player.

Oppo DVD-970HDWhy would you an want up converting DVD player in the first place, when you can just move to high-definition video? Many people have built a library of conventional DVDs over the past few years, a library that – if it weren't for the push to the competing HD DVD and Blu-ray high-definition DVD formats – would still be perfectly adequate for years to come.

And since neither HD disc format has made great inroads yet, there's plenty of time to let the protagonists slug it out while you sit back and watch your DVD's in "near" HD while the "neo-VHS/beta chips" fall where they may. 

High-definition TV gives you either 720 or 1080 pixels from the top to the bottom of the TV screen, which results in a more detailed picture than you can get from DVD's 480 pixels.  The ideal resolution right now is 1080p, 1080 pixels scanned progressively (like in a computer monitor), but it has been pretty rare to find a television that'll take the actual 1080p signals and display them. This is changing, however, as HD technology matures.

Oppo's 970HD doesn't convert right up to 1080p (though as of this writing Oppo has announced the new DV-981HD, which does), but its capacity to up convert to 1080i will be more than adequate for most existing TV's.

Besides, 720p is a more important resolution right now anyway; it's better than 1080i (all else being equal, progressively scanned pictures look better than interlaced ones) and since most existing high definition LCD and plasmas are native 720p (they accept 1080i signals, but display them at 720p), the lack of 1080p won't matter to many people.

On the other hand, the ability to up convert to 1080i will be great for people with HDTV's that don't display 720p, though, including many "early adopters".

As with most up converting DVD players, the Oppo uses its HDMI output – and only the HDMI connection – to up convert DVDs. This is the way it's supposed to be, for legal reasons, though my reference player will also up convert some discs to 1080i via component video.

But even if your TV doesn't have an HDMI input, there's still plenty to like about the Oppo, since it'll not only give you excellent "standard" video performance but will also handle just about any type of disc you can think of.

Here's a list of the formats the Oppo will "Opporate":

  • DVD-Audio/Video
  • SACD
  • HDCD
  • CD
  • Kodak Picture CD
  • DivX
  • CD-R/RW
  • DVD±R/RW
  • DVD+R DL
  • WMA and other digital formats

I tried the Oppo at 480p, 720p and 1080i and was impressed with its video quality.  Discs included Lord of the Rings – the Return of the King, Star Wars Episode Three, the Fifth Element Superbit, and some other favorite discs that can really stretch a TV or DVD player's legs.  All the movies and concerts looked sharp and clean and colourful, with very good black levels that helped bring a nice "depth" to the picture.

Its audio performance was equally impressive. Whether it was with CD's being output through the digital audio output or SACD/DVD-A transmitted via analog, the sound was transparent and true, very easy on the ears. I did notice it added a bit of sibilance to some discs on occasion, but it wasn't enough to be annoying.  

The only real fly in the audio ointment was its performance on my SACD of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. It sounded great, mind you, with excellent surround and terrific channel separation, but it would pause maddeningly after every song, splitting an album that consists of many continuous tracks into discrete songs and thereby destroying the mood. This won't matter on albums that don't run their songs together, but it sure affected the Floyd masterpiece.

To be fair, some DVD-A players do the same thing, including my reference player. It drives me nuts.

On the other hand, the Oppo played DVD-A's just fine, continuous cuts and all, so go figure.

Bottom line: the Oppo isn't up to the audio/video quality of my reference player. Nor should it be: it sells for 10% of the price of my reference player. But judging from my eyes and ears, in my totally nonscientific tests, I'd guesstimate that it probably offers at least 75% of the performance.

As Pete Townshend once wrote: "I call that a bargain."

The DV-970HD supports both NTSC and PAL systems, so it'll work most places you're likely to need it.  It also includes built in Dolby Pro Logic II decoding. And get this: they even kick in a decent HDMI cable with gold-plated connectors, something that in my neck of the woods can cost nearly half the price of the player itself!  How's that for value?

Oppo also gives you just about any input or output you could need, including the 5.1 channel analog connectors that are important for SACD and DVD-Audio playback. There's also one optical and one coaxial digital audio output, and video outputs include composite, S-Video, component, and HDMI.

As if that isn't enough, an unexpected bonus is the inclusion of an integrated memory card reader which lets you view your digital pictures or videos on your TV. There's even a USB interface.

The player's also very user-friendly, with an easy to fathom remote control and a straightforward on screen interface.

I can't stress enough how great a value this player is. While I'm not ready to throw away my reference player, I would not be disappointed to use this Oppo in its place or by its side – and what it may give up in audio/video performance is made up for by its superior mechanism to my reference player's – and of course its outrageous price.

And get this: they give you not one, but two owner's manuals, one of which is the usual wordy and lawyerly thing no one without a science degree can figure out. But the "Advanced Setup Guide" is written in plain English (with some humor!) and is meant for people who already know how to install batteries and operate a remote control. It's a real breath of fresh air!

I'm not the only one the Oppo is impressing. The Editors of Perfect Vision magazine were also knocked over by its performance, giving it one of their Editors' Choice Awards. If I were to give such kudos, I'd definitely include this player in the list as well.

Not bad for a company I'd never heard of before this player caught my attention.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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