Oppo DVD 970 HD Universal DVD Player

by | Jul 18, 2006 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

Oppo DVD 970 HD Universal DVD Player
        SRP: $149 plus shipping, direct sale only (Value Product of the Decade?) 
 

Features:
Compatibility with DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, Super Audio CD (SACD), DivX®, Xvid, Audio CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD and other digital audio and video media/formats
Official DivX® Certified product
Plays all versions of DivX® video (including DivX® 6) with standard playback of DivX® media files
Plays XviD and .SRT, .SMI, .IDX and .SUB format

Video Up-Conversion Features:
High definition up-conversion with film-like picture quality to up-convert 720×480 interlaced video encoded on DVD discs to 480p/720p/1080i
High-quality pure digital video and audio through a single HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cable
Multiple high definition video formats through HDMI and component outputs*: NTSC: 480i/480p/720p/1080i; PAL: 576i/576p/720p/1080i (* Component output for CSS-encrypted DVD discs (almost all commercially pressed DVD discs) is limited to 480i/480p only.)
Compatible with HDTV, HD-Ready TV, HDTV monitors and projectors
[For more information about DVD video up-conversion, please read our white paper  “Getting the Most Out of DVD on an HDTV Display” ]
 
Optimized Audio Features:
Optimized analog audio circuitry for great audio quality
Built-in Dolby Digital decoder with individual 5.1ch and down-mixed stereo outputs
Optical and coaxial digital audio outputs for Dolby Digital, DTS and Linear PCM
“Audio Only” mode with video processing turned off for improved fidelity
3D Surround (Virtual Surround): Concert, Live, Dance, Techno, Classic, Soft
Built-in equalizer, channel trim and channel delay functions

Compatibility Features:
PAL/NTSC disc and TV compatible with automatic or manual system conversion
Compatible with CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW and DVD+R DL* (* Playability of self-recorded discs may vary depending on media and formatting software types)
Enhanced dual-layer disc support with fast layer change
Wide range universal power supply (~100V-240V, 50/60Hz AC)

Standard Video Features:

Progressive scan component outputs (YPbPr)
Composite video and S-Video outputs for standard TVs
Supports screen aspect ratio 4:3 (standard) and 16:9 (wide-screen)
User adjustable video controls: Sharpness, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, Hue and Gamma
Multi-angle view

Convenience Features:
Special disc tray – thin, flexible and strong
4-in-1 flash memory card reader compatible with Memory Stick, Secure Digital, Multi-Media Card, and SmartMedia (MS/SD/MMC/SM)
USB interface for expanded connectivity
Smooth and easy navigation of photo albums, music collections and video files on DVD, CD, flash memory cards and USB disks.
Selectable subtitle and audio tracks
Discrete ON/OFF remote control IR code for programmable universal remote controls

Connectors:
HDMI – High Definition Multimedia Interface: 1
Component Video (YPbPr/YCbCr): 1 group (3 connectors)
Analog Stereo Audio (Mixed 2-Channel Left/Right): 1 group (2 connectors)
Analog 5.1 Channel Audio: 1 group (6 connectors)
S/PDIF (IEC-958) Coaxial Digital Audio: 1
S/PDIF (IEC-958) Optical Digital Audio: 1
Composite Video: 1
S-Video: 1
 
Accessories Included:

High-quality certified HDMI cable with ferrite core and gold-plated HDMI connectors
Remote control with “glow in the dark” keypad (batteries included)
Stereo audio cable; Composite video cable
User manual and warranty information

 
Intro
I ran into this product by accident. I was looking for a cheap universal DVD player for my bedroom stereo setup. I was hoping for the announced Pioneer DV 696 AV. I found out that they released that product in Europe but not America. So I did an Internet search for universal players and ran into an Oppo DVD universal player. I thought, “Oh no, not another el cheapo unknown manufacturer’s product.”

I went to the web site www.oppodigital.com anyway. I looked at the specs and saw it did everything I needed a player to do, plus a lot more. I decided to order one for the bedroom system, figuring it would be good enough for that system. On their site they had a link to a video magazine which has run tests on well over 100 DVD players over the past years. The model preceding the 970 (model DV 971HD) had received the highest video score of any DVD player that they had tested. The number two tested player was a $3500 Denon model. It was amazing to see how poorly many of the highly regarded players performed. [In fact, of their 19 stringent tests of video capabilities on both HDMI & component outputs, the Oppo unit only failed 3. One recent $1000 universal player from a major manufacturer showed almost as many failed as passed in the same tests!…Ed.]

The video testing site found the Model 971 to be actually better than the 970; that would be very scary. The DV971 is more of a strictly DVD player, has Faroudja processing and is $50 more. But it does not have HDMI output or play SACD/DVD-A. I found three good universal players that are out now. The Oppo 970 tested as well as the $2000 Onkyo DV-SP1000 and the $750 Denon DV 2910, and better than $370 Denon DV 1920. One player than looks promising is the Arcam DV 137 at $2000. It has the best chips I have seen in a DVD player and up-samples DVD to 1080p.

 
                                                    The Arrival

The Oppo player arrived well-packaged. It was double boxed and came in a cloth bag with the Oppo insignia. The unit is very slim height-wise. It only had four control buttons on it. They were Power, Eject, Play and Stop. It came with the common two-wire power cord and the molded mini female connector at the player. The remote is fairly large and a maze of small buttons. The buttons light up in the dark, but would be very hard to read. One really nice inclusion was a 6 foot HDMI cable of seemingly good quality, probably worth at least $40 and actually looked as good quality as the $100 cables I have seen. It also came with some audio and video cables – only for emergency use. Two manuals came with the unit;  both could have used some more work. 

                                                      The Setup

The setup menu is somewhat difficult to deal with. Certain settings preclude being able to set others. The manuals do not do a good job showing how settings affect the play of discs. It would be nice to have directions such as “to play multichannel sound the following settings are needed.” Setup allows a setting of big or small for all the 5.1 speakers. You also set the distance of the main speakers and the difference of that distance and the distance of the other speakers. You can set volume for each speaker, but no tone to do this is included. AIX discs all have surround setup tracks for this. The use of a sound pressure meter is very helpful. The display is not very helpful telling you what it is playing. An on-screen description is available when hooked up to the player. On SACD you cannot use the next track button to go to the next track. There is an on-screen SACD display and you have to use the up-down buttons to select the cut you want and then press enter to play it. Some settings cannot be made with a disc in the player. The picture output adjustments are very useful. With some settings the 5.1 output will not work. The tray for the disc is unique: you need to either put your finger in the whole in the center of the disc or push the disc up from the bottom to remove the disc. If you lose your remote or do not have the player hooked to a video screen, you will be very limited in what you can do with the player. The player up-samples DVDs to 540p, 720p or 1080i. It will also output 480i through the HDMI to go to an outboard video processor. From what I understand this is a rarity among DVD players. [If you feed the outboard processor a progressive signal it will be needlessly processed as progressive a second time…Ed.]

Since it gained such high test scores I decided to quickly hook it up via HDMI in my main system. I first put on a DVD of Visions of Greece. I have always been disappointed by the video quality of this disc and hoped that the Oppo might clean it up some. The Oppo was somewhat better, but the disc was still disappointing. I next put on the DVD of Star Gaze II. Suddenly I saw the disc as I have never seen it before. There was much more detail, texture, color intensity and sense of depth. The galaxies had texture and much more of a sense they were part of a vast place with great depth. This disc has become one of my video references. I was outputting 740p from the Oppo. I then put on Star Wars III – Revenge of the Sith. The Oppo was again vastly better. On the battle in space scene 3 the lights from the planet below had much more sharpness and clarity. There was more sense of dimension and texture to the picture. There were also less motion artifacts. This really amazed me considering it was going against a $1700 Marantz DVD player, with $500 worth of modifications from Modwright, into a $2000 Lumagen Video processor outputting 720p, with $500 video cables from Jena Labs. (The provided HDMI cable was used from the Oppo.)

 
I then changed the output to 1080i and the picture got slightly better. This was probably due to my Sony 60 inch XBR1 converting any input to 1080i, then upsampling to 1080p. This input made the Sony have to do less conversion. I did not believe that DVD could look this good. The only time I have seen as good or better a picture from a DVD was with a moderately expensive DVD player feeding a professional upsampling video processor into a $30,000 Sony Qualia front-projector on a 100 inch screen. The next day I ordered another unit for my main system. I then put the unit into my bedroom system, via supplied HDMI cable, which has a 720p 32 inch View Sonic LCD display. It produced a very good picture. The improvement was lessened by the smaller screen, lesser resolution and greater comparative viewing distance, but still very worthwhile. The buttons on the remote and the player proved a bit finicky.

                                                  Listening and Viewing

I will mainly review this player in my main system because its quality warrants it being reviewed in that system. But first I took the Oppo over to a friend’s house who has a comparatively priced universal player from Pioneer. It had always been an overachiever in performance and was a couple of years old. He had a 740p Sony front LCD projector onto a 100 inch screen. We first played Star Gaze II on the Pioneer. The picture looked pretty good. Then we put it on the Oppo. The picture was now much better. The black of space was blacker. There were probably 40% more stars in the background. There was more and better color in the stars and galaxies. The galaxies and gas clouds had better texture and dimensionality. On Star Wars III we noted the increased clarity and dimensionality of the space battle scene. On Once Upon a Time in the West the bar scene we noticed the much greater background detail and more three dimensionality to the whole picture. Faces have a front-to-back roundness to them that they did not have with the Pioneer.

We next tried out the audio characteristics of the Oppo. The Oppo was much better on any disc we tried, CD, DVD, SACD or DVD Audio. Then sound was more focused and had a bigger and deeper soundstage. The sound was also more dynamic and had better bass. My friend however did not like the ergonomics of the player. He did not like the way the disc had to be removed or the lack of track forward and scan on the player itself. I next took the unit home and installed it in my main system. Oppo offers a 15 and a 25 foot HDMI cables for $30 and $40. I ordered the 15 foot one to go from my equipment rack to the TV. I had fears that a longer cable might reduce the picture quality. The 15 foot cable even seemed even higher quality than the supplied 6 foot cable. It thickness was like a heavy gauge power cable. I put the Oppo on Ebony isolation feet on a Bright Star Big Foot sand box. I put a lead sheet on top of the player using lab stoppers as spacers. I connected the Oppo to the Sony TV using the 15 foot HDMI cable. I used Jena Labs 5.1 audio and digital cables to hook up to my AV preamp. The picture was now even better than when I did the quickie connection to the main TV. The longer cable did not seem to cause any degradation in the picture quality. I tried the usual suspects: Star Wars III, Star Gaze II, Once Upon a Time in the West, House of Flying Daggers and The Fifth Element. They all looked better than I had ever seen them look. The pictures showed very good detail, color saturation, sense of depth and a lack of motion defects.

 
An audiophile friend came over to look at the Oppo’s picture quality. We first put on the DVD of House of Flying Daggers on the Marantz. The picture was pretty good. Then we put it on the Oppo player. His first comment was “Oh Wow”. The picture was much better. I asked him if he wanted to make any more comparisons, and he said that he did not think that it was at all necessary. He just wanted to see more movies on the Oppo. Before the Oppo I never felt bad about the picture on the Marantz. Only the Denon universal player I reviewed a couple of years ago had a very slightly better picture upon close comparison. Oppo also plays PAL discs and either outputs them in NTSC or PAL format. This is good for playing discs that are only available in the PAL format. One interesting thing I found out with the new Pink Floyd DVD of Pulse is that the Marantz would not play the higher bit transfer rate for the surround audio, but the Oppo did play it.

The new Samsung Blu-ray players have come out so I checked them at various stores. I will have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by what I saw. I watched Blu-ray demo clips from The Fifth Element, House of Flying Daggers, and A Knight’s Tale. Most stores were using the Samsung 1080p TVs. I convinced one store to hook the Blu-ray to the Sony XBR2. The picture looked a little better on the Sony. I also got them to play a DVD of Star Wars III thru the Samsung player on to the Sony to get an idea of how good its upsampling performs. I went home and played the DVDs of these discs thru the Oppo. The Oppo gave a much better picture on The Fifth Element and House of Flying Daggers. The picture on A Knight’s Tale was about on par with the Blu-ray picture. My friend had accompanied me to the stores to see the Blu-ray players and agreed with my assessment. This surprised me because the Blu-ray discs are 1080p native discs and should be better than up-sampled 480i native DVDs. I would say the DVD up- sampling was on par with the Samsung. I think the Oppo still had a slight edge. I feel that there is something wrong with the Samsung players or the discs. I have had the same experience at seven different stores. I wonder if this may be why Sony and Pioneer are delaying their players being released.

The sound comparisons of the Oppo and Marantz was a different matter. The Oppo definitely has a better digital output for CD, DD, DVD and DTS. The Oppo has a much crisper, more dynamic sound with the digital output. My AV preamp is a very heavily modified Outlaw 950, and the digital conversion is better than either the Marantz or the Oppo. The Oppo also has a HDCD decoder – a very nice feature. I have never been able to decode HDCD discs before. The player also plays recordable CD and DVD and DVIX discs. On SACD and DVD-Audio, more differences started to show up. This is to be expected because the discrete digital processing and analog outputs of modified $1700 player with a $200 power cord should be better than a $150 player. The differences were less than you would think they would be considering the cost differences. The Oppo actually had some strong points. It had tight deep strong bass. The Marantz had more feeling and musical information in the bass. The Oppo imaged very solidly with a more up front presentation. The Marantz had a deeper soundstage and more detail in the music. In surround sound the Oppo had a wider and more solid soundstage. But it seemed at times to lose some front focus. The Marantz had a deeper soundstage with more room information. The Oppo was even more dynamic than the Marantz. The Oppo played highly-separated DVD-A sounds well and was very impressive. I had Jennifer at Jena Labs make me up a custom power cord for the Oppo, which made its performance even better.

                                                            Conclusions

The Oppo DV 770 HD is one of the highest-value electronic products I have seen! It gives you near state of the art DVD picture, very good digital audio output, very respectable SACD and DVD-Audio sound and plays all except high definition format discs. The player makes me wish I had two 5.1 inputs on my AV preamp, because on certain discs I really like what it does on SACD and DVD-A. If you are looking for a strict DVD player you might be better off with the Model 971. If you however want to enjoy the high-end audio formats and more flexibility, the 970 could be the player for you. The Oppo is also an inexpensive player for secondary systems. It will be used in my system for DVD video, CD, DD and DTS digital sound, and stereo SACD and DVD-A play back. The Marantz will continue to be the main SACD and DVD-Audio source. For a stock $150 player to even be competing with a modified $1700 player is a great honor for the Oppo. If you are looking for a digital video transport to go to an outboard video processor that 970 is also a consideration.

The Oppo makes me feel better about not hopping onto the HD video disc bandwagon yet. I figure I might try it once the format wars settle down and there are players which can play all video and audio disc formats. Already several modification companies are advertising mods for the 970 on the Internet, which shows its strength as an audio player. With the lack off universal players on the market at this time it is really good to see a player such as this come out. Many of the highest-end players are SACD stereo only. I have heard that Denon is not going to include SACD and DVD-A on their less expensive players in the future. If this player had come out a couple years ago it might have helped SACD survive. Right now SACD is moribund in the USA. It is much more accepted in Europe and Asia. Concord Records has bought out one of the strongest proponents of SACD in the USA, Telarc Records. It remains to be seen what will happen with its many excellent SACD releases. I am deeply disappointed by this, since I consider SACD a superior audio format. Sony will probably come out with some audio format based on Blu-ray, but this is a few years off.

 — Clay Swartz                                                       
 
 

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