Oppo BDP-83 Universal
Blu-ray Disc Player
Retail Price: $499
Disc Types: Blu-ray, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio (multi-chan.), SACD (multi-chan.), CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD+-R/RW, DVD+- R DL, BD-R/RE
BD-ROM version 2 Profile 2 (compatible with earlier versions)
Internal Storage: 1 GB
Analog Audio: 5.1 or 7.1 & stereo
Digital Audio: Coaxial, Optical
HDMI Audio: Stereo, up to 7.1 PCM, up to 5.1 DSD, DD bitstream, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio
Analog Video: Composite, Component (480i & p, 720p, 1080i)
Digital Video: HDMI with HDCP (both NTSC & PAL)
Video Specs: Composite Video Amplitude: 1.0Vp-p (75Ω); Component Video: Y= 1.0Vp-p (75Ω); Pb/Pr=0.7p-p (75Ω)
Audio Specs: Frequency: 20Hz-20kHz +- 0.4dB; S/N: >110dB; Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.001%
General Specs: Power Supply: ~100V-240V, 50/60Hz AC; Power Consumption: 35W; Dimensions: 16 7/8 x 13 1/4 x 3 inches; Weight: 11.2 lbs.
The general meaning of a universal disc player until recently has been one that plays not only standard 44.1K/16bit Compact Discs, but also the two hi-res formats: SACD and DVD-Audio. And some of those players only played the stereo layers of the advanced formats, not the multichannel options. Now with first Denon – with a $3800 price tag – and just now Oppo, we have a new meaning for universal: a deck able to play not only the various DVDs – Video and Audio, plus SACDs and standard CDs, but also Blu-ray discs. In fact the Oppo user manual refers to this as a Blu-ray Disc Player.
The manual that was packed with my BDP-83 states under “Discs that cannot be played: DVD-Audio,” but back in February a firmware update was made to the BDP-83 which did allow stereo or multichannel DVD-A playback, and a current updated version of the user manual is available for download at the Oppo web site support section. On May 2 another major firmware update was made, and installed on my player which was shipped for review just afterwards. Another function added in firmware updates was onboard decoding of both DTS-HD lossless audio and Dolby Digital TrueHD audio. The BDP-83 is being launched in a progressive fashion, with a group of beta users out there who received a discount on purchase of the unit in exchange for reporting any problems or questions; a very sensible approach that I wish other manufacturers would use. Future firmware updates will bring in new features and functions. The easiest way to secure them is with an Ethernet or LAN connection right at the rear of the deck to the Oppo site. Next simplest is to transfer the firmware update from their site to a USB thumb drive and then insert it into either of the handy USB ports on the BDP-83 – front and rear. The most involved would be to burn a CD-R or RW on your computer and play it on the BDP-83 to accomplish the update. Detailed instructions are featured on the web site when you download the update, and it is simple to access a readout on your video display of the version of the firmware that is installed in your player. Both BD Live and Bonus View are supported by the BDP-83 on those Blu-ray discs that have them, and assuming that you care about either feature (you need the Ethernet connected to use the former, of course). HD DVD playback is not provided, though it has been observed that probably more people have collections of HD DVDs now than SACDs or DVD-As. But after all, it’s now a totally dead format, unlike the others.
The BDP-83 will output both video and multichannel hi-res audio via its HDMI port. In order to make use of the single-cable solution to home theater consternation one must have of course a receiver or preamp which accepts the combined AV HDMI hi-def/hi-res data. My current Sunfire 401 AV preamp doesn’t, so I must use the 6-channel analog outputs for audio. Fortunately the BDP-83 shares with their earlier Model 983H the direct conversion of the SACD DSD signal to six-channel analog, rather than going thru a PCM stage as do many SACD decks. You still need to select DSD-to-analog in the Setup Menu rather than PCM for both the HDMI and 6 or 8-channel analog outs. I can also benefit from the deck’s onboard decoding of the new lossless multichannel codecs from DTS and Dolby, feeding it to the same 6-channel analog RCA output jacks. The only slight disadvantage is that this bypasses my Felston lip sync delay unit which matches the timing of the audio to that of the often-delayed video on many broadcasts and discs. However, the older audio codecs are handled by the Oppo’s bitstream optical output which feeds the Felston for standard DVDs, and Blu-rays don’t usually suffer from the grievous departures from accurate lip sync that plague many DVDs and broadcasts. (Since the Sunfire preamp defaults to the digital connection if you have both analog and digital plugged into one input, I had to set up a separate input just for the upsampled stereo signal from my Benchmark D-to-A, to employ the Source Direct audio option on the Sunfire. It will also slightly upsample 96K DVDs (to 110K) but won’t pass DSD or DVD-A signals.)
The BDP-83 has a plethora of rear panel ports. There are the eight RCA jacks for analog multichannel outputs – 5.1, or 7.1. These are on the far left, with the stereo audio RCA jacks next in line. Continuing to the right, we have the Toslink optical and the coaxial digital RCA jack. The three component video RCA jacks plus the audio are next. There is an Ethernet LAN port, a USB 2.0 port, in and out ports for infrared control, and finally the HDMI port. The front panel controls are kept simple: an open/close button for the disc tray and to its right the playback “joystick-type” navigation control. At the far right is a rubber-covered USB port, which is also duplicated on the rear of the player. The power button and the remote IR sensor are the remaining items on the front panel. The unit’s display window tells you clearly at the far left of the display exactly what disc is in the deck: BD, SACD, DVD-A, HD CD, S VCD, 2 Channel or Multichannel, plus Mute Audio. This is balanced by data at the far right end of the visual display which indicates the type of audio tracks that are playing: Dolby+, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HDMA, MPEG or PCM. There is also information displayed across the top as to titles, groups, total time, remaining time, status of playback, angle (if used), an indication if an Ethernet cable is attached, if the audio is muted, and whether the audio is two channel stereo or surround. The largest portion of the display is the main numeric and text display for the disc being played.
The supplied remote control is backlit, thankfully, and well-designed. In addition to all the usual controls it also offers such extras as a button to switch resolutions, one to turn on or off the secondary audio program, one to switch between NTSC and PAL video playback, an aspect ratio button as well as zooming in or out. (The latter is most useful – if your display lacks it – for the “picture-framed” images put out by many stations with borders all the way around.) The Oppo manual’s section on Determining the Display Aspect Ratio is very well-written. I liked the unit’s option to advance the image on video discs one frame at a time in either direction simply by hitting Pause and then pressing the Forward or Reverse buttons.
Media File Playback
A variety of media files can also be played by the BDP-83. You can playback from either the front or rear USB port or from a data disc in the tray with media files burned on it. The Home Menu then comes up as the starting point for accessing your media files. You can access music files, movie files and still photo files. You can even add background music to your slide show of photos, storing the music files on the same disc or thumb drive or on a separate one.
The BDP-83 Setup Menu is extensive, but the manual takes you thru the process in a most understandable manner. (It appears Oppo didn’t leave the manual writing up to their engineers – Thank You!) You need to have the tray out of the player for a few of the Setup options, but most can be done on-the-fly with a disc playing. There is a very complete Audio Signal Reference Chart which aids in clarifying all the permutations of different channels, HDMI, Optical, Coaxial and Analog Outputs. Under SACD Output you would select DSD rather than PCM – unless, as the manual suggests, you prefer the PCM sound to DSD (which seems unlikely). Under Coaxial/Optical Output you would select Bitsream if your receiver or preamp decodes standard Dolby and DTS codecs. The LPCM option down-mixes everything to 2-channel PCM. The LPCM Rate Limit matches the highest sampling rate with your other components. Most users should select 192K if your receiver or preamp supports it, since that allows the 192K stereo files on some DVD-As to be properly passed thru. The BDP-83 does not upsample the audio. The picture adjustments in the Setup Menu are also extensive, which I’ll discuss next.
Since this is promoted as a Blu-ray player first, I feel I should cover the video side first even though the multichannel audio interested me the most. The BDP-83 employs the latest video processing from Anchor Bay Technologies. The trademarked products used in the player include that firm’s Video Reference Series, Precision Deinterlacing, Precision Video Scaling, Progressive Cadence Detection, and AutoCUE-C. It’s sort of an entry-level version of the complex stand-alone video processors used by some videophiles. The player is also supplied a terrific Blu-ray test discs. It is the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray Edition of their “High-Definition Benchmark” disc, is subtitled “Hand Forged Video.”
Before using the the Spears & Munsil disc and making any picture adjustments at all I viewed a couple of standard DVD discs at hand, after sampling them first on my other Oppo – the 983H. I found a slightly improved amount of detail and more lively color reproduction. I then put a couple of Blu-rays I had around in my first-generation (SRP $1500) Pioneer Blu-ray player, which has the latest firmware updates. Compared to the Oppo BDP-83 I didn’t see any huge differences. Then I tried stopping on some still images in the Blu-rays. One scene of rooftops in Berlin had a great deal of detail and depth in it. The same image when paused as a still on the BDP-83 had improved resolution thruout the entire image. Rooftop signs where the letters were a big fuzzy on the Pioneer became much clearer on the BDP-83.
The most astounding improvement was one I’ve seen and heard many users complaining about in regard to their earlier Blu-ray players: The discs loaded completely in under 30 seconds! And CDs and SACDs loaded almost instantly! Wow. No more frustration waiting as the screen continues to show “Loading” forever. I’m thinking that improvement has been perhaps the No. 1 thing I was looking for in my next Blu-ray player.
I then put in the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray test disc. It opens with a nicely-shot visual tour with music of Astoria, Oregon and shots in and around Seattle. This is followed by an extensive list of calibration patterns to set up your display and player. All were created at 1080p resolution in native color space. There are evaluation patterns to measure the quality of both displays and players, clips to test de-interlacing performance, and samples of various video and audio codecs. The first thing I noticed was that navigation on the disc was vastly improved over that on the Avia and Digital Video Essentials, where accessing the one or two patterns you want to test your display usually involves a great deal of effort and running into blind alleys navigation-wise. You can quickly selected from the long list of patterns the one you want and bring it up quickly. One button-press away is a text description of exactly how to use the pattern, which is also printed in the handy User’s Guide supplied with the disc. Just as an example on the usefulness of these patterns – which I find superior to both of the other popular test Blu-rays – I adjusted my 56” Samsung display with the first three: the PLUGE Low and High patterns and the Contrast pattern. These adjustments for brightness and black level were far superior to anything I had used on the other discs or what is supplied on some movie discs as THX test patterns. I had never been happy with the black levels on my Samsung display, but the Spears & Munsil PLUGE and Contrast patterns allowed me to set a much better black level so that images on my display now have more depth and look more dynamic than ever before. The patterns on the other discs only had two dark bars to adjust black level, but the Spears & Munsil has four, and following the setup instructions and going back and forth between the two PLUGE patterns and the Contrast resulted in my achieving a hugely improved black level on my display. The color patterns didn’t result in my making any adjustment changes because they demonstrated the BDP-83 was on the button in that department. I also didn’t notice any differences in extreme settings of the Sharpness control. However, I just discovered an extensive section in the BDP-83 manual on the unit’s controls for both Sharpness and Edge-Qualified Sharpness, and I intend to tweak that aspect a bit more.
I first broke in the player with an F.I.M. demo disc for a few days. I then auditioned a number of SACDs and DVD-As on first my Oppo 983H and then again on the Oppo BDP-83. In general I heard a subtle though identifiable improvement in richness and fullness, with slightly more air and impact on the BDP-83 playback. A couple of SACDs that I had set aside as superior examples of the format – such as the CCn’C Records “Shifting Landscapes” with works by John Adams and Sumera performed by the Norrlands Opera Orch. conducted by Kristjan Järvi – now took on an even more impressive sound display via the BDP-83’s six-channel analog outputs. With standard CDs I didn’t note quite as major an improvement of one player over the other, but I was aware that my 983H is highly tweaked with various accessory feet underneath, Walker discs and Shakti stones on top, sitting on a thick MSB isolation plate; while the BDP-83 was only on an MSB plate with simple carbon fiber feet. Both had third-party AC cables connected.
I should emphasize the great advantages of such a truly universal disc player. Instead of having a separate Blu-ray player (which didn’t even play standard CDs in my case) plus another player for standard DVDs, SACDs and DVD-As, both switched thru a Zektor 6-channel switcher, and different inputs on my Sunfire preamp, I now have a single player for all video and audio formats. I think back to having once had yet another separate player just for DVD-As and I shudder…
I think Oppo has a serious winner here, at the right price too. It’s something like the days of the universal record changers which handled 78s, 45s, 33 1/3s and 16 r.p.m. discs. But there don’t seem to be corners cut with any of the formats. There’s nothing else quite like the BDP-83 right now, and it’s good that the minority users (compared to Blu-ray) of both SACD and DVD-Audio formats have not been ignored in the process. Whether or not the idea of audio-only Blu-rays ever gets off the ground, we’ll have proper playback of our collection of hi-res SACDs and DVD-As. The player is not yet in public release. Those who already signed up on the Oppo web site can get on their priority list for delivery of the final BDP-83, which is expected now in mid-June. Finally let me plug the wonderful and helpful customer service Oppo provides. Whatever your question or problem they will quickly respond and assist you, totally unlike most manufacturers.
– John Sunier