Some 10 years ago I wrote an article on a major problem with HDMI and many DVD players. A company I’d never heard of – Oppo Digital – emailed me to advise that its DVD players didn’t suffer from that problem and it turned out that it was right. The company is kind of a weird offshoot of the Chinese Oppo giant, familiar these days to many Australians from its line of value-for-money Android phones.
But that part of Oppo was and is based in California, and back then all it was making were quality DVD players. Since then I’ve used and reviewed most of its models and they’ve been uniformly first class.
Indeed, there was a scandal back in 2010 when it was discovered that high-end equipment maker Lexicon was selling a $US3,500 Blu-ray model which turned out to be an aluminium box containing a $US500 Oppo BDP-83 player. Literally. (It had been THX certified, though, so there’s that.)
So now Oppo is here again with an UltraHD Blu-ray player, the Oppo UDP-203, in Australian trim.
What is it?
As is Oppo’s practice, it’s actually a universal disc player, supporting just about everything that’s been released in the form of a 12cm optical disc, other than HD DVD. That includes DVD Audio and Super Audio CDs, so it’s excellent for audiophiles.
But of course it also plays UltraHD Blu-ray discs. It supports HDR and wide colour gamut and full 2160p60 and all the standards that you’d expect. And Oppo promises a firmware upgrade to add Dolby Vision in due course (there are no Dolby Vision discs out yet). Dolby Vision extends the possibilities of HDR by providing 12 rather than 10 bits of resolution per colour, and employing metadata to allow the shifting of the range on a scene by scene basis.
There are two HDMI outputs, somewhat like Oppo’s previous generation of Blu-ray players. But whereas both of those supported both video and audio, one of the HDMI outputs on this unit has audio only. Well, the audio output also has placeholder video because HDMI carries audio interleaved within video. No video, then no audio. Indeed, the video has to be HD to allow sufficient bandwidth to carry high definition sound. (Just out of interest, the unit puts out a black screen at 1080p50 from this output.)
It also has 7.1 channel analogue audio output with full control settings (distance, level and size). You can control the output volume so you could use the unit with active speakers and no need for other devices. However you would of course be restricted to a maximum of 7.1 channel sound this way, with no Dolby Atmos.
It also has a number of inputs. There’s a front panel USB 2.0 input, convenient for memory sticks and two USB 3.0 ports on the rear. There’s also a HDMI input at the rear which, as we’ll see, can be useful.
And there’s Ethernet and built in WiFi. Proper ones, those. The Ethernet connection supports gigabit connections – that is, 1000Mbps rather than the more usual 100Mbps. The WiFi is dual band 802.11ac, the latest, fastest throughput WiFi standard.
I was quite surprised to find that the streaming functions available on the last generation players simply weren’t provided on this one. No Netflix or YouTube and so on. Indeed, I was briefly disappointed since I’d been planning to use Netflix on the evening I set up the player.
I got over it though. I plugged a Chromecast into the rear HDMI input and used one of the USB sockets to power it. Then at any time I could change to that input and use the Chromecast for streaming services.
Local media streaming is a different matter. The UDP-203(AU) can act as both a DLNA media renderer and DLNA media player for music, video and photos.
The IR remote control is fairly large and packed with keys for immediate control of all functions. There’s also an app available for iOS and Android devices designed principally to control network media functions, but it also has a remote control function and can be used to change player settings.
The Australianisation of the player doesn’t mean many changes. Essentially it is coded to Region 4 for DVDs and Region B for Blu-ray, and in standard screen mode it outputs at 50 frames per second rather than 60 frames per second. I wish it would output at 24fps because then there’s be less signal standards switching, with the consequent delay as the display re-syncs to the signal. But that’s an industry wide kind of thing so we have to live with it.
As has been the case with Oppo players for years, the Opp UDP-203(AU) was a delight to use, straightforward, but with enormous control for anyone who wants to delve into the deeper settings.
That’s important in my view. Do you want the video to go out at 4:4:4 colour resolution? How many bits deep do you want it to be? Is there some piece of equipment that is improperly coded so it’s indicating that UHD video is impermissible, when in fact it’s supported? Then just force UHD output and the device’s settings will be ignored.
All the discs played flawlessly, including several UltraHD discs. I caught up with Jupiter Ascending and re-watched The Martian with this player, and the picture was first class. Importantly, things were smooth. I could single step from the pause state, fast forward or rewind and the player was responsive.
Importantly, it handles legacy discs extremely well (and can upsample them to whatever resolution you want, up to an including UltraHD). With interlaced 50Hz input from DVDs the ‘Auto’ deinterlacing mode did a perfect job on my most difficult test clips. With 1080i50 Blu-rays, the Auto setting was tricked in a couple of places by my difficult test clips. In both cases, you can also set the deinterlacing to either ‘Film’ or ‘Video’ mode and that forces that mode to be used. That can solve all kinds of problems with tricky discs. The upscaling to 2160p was effective.
When playing SACDs you can have the original Direct Stream Digital audio output over the HDMI connection to the device at the other end where it can be decoded, or you can have the player itself decode the audio to PCM format. That carried through with the playback of standard DSD music files from the network. That is, they could be sent out in DSD format. But double speed ones – DSD128 or 5.6MHz DSD – were converted to 24 bit PCM at 176.4kHz sampling.
The fast network connections were useful and, these days, necessary. I have an UltraHD test clip which runs the video at 100Mbps. With most devices it frequently pauses and buffers during playback because the data throughput is butting up against the top speed permitted by the network interface. No problems with this unit, it streamed this smoothly, and beautifully.
But weirdly, while it would happily play all manner of files, including H.264 and H.265 files, the latter with 10-bit colour coding, it would not seem to play standard MPEG2 video files. Clearly it supports MPEG2 because it plays DVDs. This appeared to be intentional because when using the Oppo app, the MPEG2 video files on the server weren’t even listed.
Then, having written that, the player did start supporting MPEG2 files, but didn’t like the Dolby Digital stereo encoding, so it wouldn’t play the sound, just the video. But with MPEG audio it played both. That was using a different DLNA app. The Oppo app still wouldn’t see those files within their folders at all.
Which makes me think that the firmware could still do with a bit more work. There were other imperfections. The main one I came across several times. I’d be playing a disc – Blu-ray in one instance and SACD in another – or a music file from USB, and then decide to send some network audio to the Oppo, and it would just jam up. Switching it off and then back on again after the shutdown was completed fixed it each time.
My long experience with Oppo products makes me confident such issues will be ironed out in future firmware upgrades.
The one significant network problem with the player was that music track playback wasn’t gapless. Indeed, there was quite a large gap as though the device could only hold one track open at a time and would have to close that track down before it would even look at the next track.
As I said, I fully expect those minor matters to be sorted out, although probably not gapless playback. Even with that in mind, as far as I’m concerned anyone who wants the highest quality playback of discs all the way up to UltraHD Blu-ray should have just one player on their short list, and it’s this one.