Oppo BDP-83SE Special Edition Blu-ray Player
The Best Has Gotten Better
With all of the resources that are available to the Blu-ray Disc Association’s major manufacturers, it’s remarkable that the first company to cure the ills of standalone Blu-ray players was Oppo Digital with its $499 BDP-83 (HT, September 2009). Upon that player’s release, many enthusiasts were using the PlayStation 3 for its speed and reliability. Standalone players were too slow and prone to disc incompatibility issues. They also had a hodgepodge of hardware profiles and decoding and interactivity features that bewildered consumers. When Oppo’s BDP-83 came along, it did everything that a Blu-ray player should do, and it did it right and fast. In short, it was a next-gen Blu-ray player that acted like one. That player earned Home Theater’s Top Pick of the Year in Source Components and overall Product of the Year for 2009 (HT, November 2009). Plus, it earned a check from me to Oppo. The BDP-83 I bought last year as a reference has been bulletproof during the time I’ve owned it. Compatibility issues have been few and far between. But when they’ve come up, Oppo has acted swiftly with hassle-free firmware updates from the Internet. It has been so bulletproof that it’s difficult to imagine changing it out or upgrading it.
Enter the Oppo BDP-83SE Special Edition Blu-ray player. According to the company’s Website, this upgraded player is for “customers who primarily use the analog audio output to connect to either a dedicated stereo or a multichannel surround system.” Hey, that’s me! So, the obvious question is just what that extra $400 buys a two-channel audio druid like me?
Audiophile Home Theater
It’s confession time. I am an avid two-channel audio enthusiast, and I’ve essentially built a high-end home theater around my high-end stereo. I use a 92-inch-wide front projection screen, but I’d have a larger one if it didn’t interfere with optimizing placement of my floorstanding left and right loudspeakers, which are out in the room a good ways. I use a surround processor for video sources, but I also have an Audio Research REF5 two-channel analog preamplifier for dedicated audio sources, including disc players, a turntable, and now a USB DAC fed by a music server. A unity-gain processor pass-through input for the left and right channels on the REF5 preamp lets the surround processor implement volume control on the signal passing through the preamp. I’ve done many direct comparisons, and I prefer the sound of a dedicated, analog, two-channel preamp with high-resolution audio sources to the sound I hear from even the best surround processors. Although this is a purist approach, it’s resulted in the greatest satisfaction for me when I listen to music. Plus it’s had virtually no negative impact on my home theater experience.
The New Boss, (Almost) the Same as the Old Boss
Before I get to what’s new in the BDP-83SE, most of what’s happening here is the same as the BDP-83, which is a very good thing. Aesthetically, the two players are virtually identical. It’s reasonably sturdy and functional. The BDP-83SE is a universal player that plays Blu-ray Discs, CDs, DVDs, and the all-but-defunct SACD and DVD-Audio formats. It decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to PCM over HDMI, or to analog over its 7.1-channel analog outputs. It can also transmit Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as native bitstreams over HDMI, which you can quickly and easily change in the setup menu. When you choose bitstream output, you lose secondary audio, which includes PiP commentary streams and disc menu sound effects.
The BDP-83SE also has all of its interactivity bases covered. The player is fully Bonus View and BD-Live capable right out of the box. It accommodates hardwired Ethernet, but not built-in Wi-Fi. (Oppo offers an $80 Wireless Network Bridge Kit in case you don’t have a network drop near your A/V rack.) Unlike many players on the market, Oppo outfitted the BDP-83SE with BD-Live’s specified minimum of 1 gigabyte of local storage. It also includes two USB ports (front and back) that let you add storage as needed. That’s the way to do it. I have to add that it’s a big help having one USB port on the front. You can use it for firmware updates or use USB sticks as media sources. (The Oppo plays AVCHD, MKV, and some Windows Media formats over USB.) As with everything else the BDP-83SE does, it’s very fast and stable with PiP commentaries and other advanced BD interactivity. In short, it’s the only player I’ve used that doesn’t make me miss the PS3, which is currently on leave in a secondary system in my house.
If you’ve read our recent reviews of BD players, you know that streaming and other Internet-delivered content applications are becoming big on Blu-ray players—from Netflix streaming to Pandora Internet radio. Oppo’s not there yet. When I wrote this in early January, the company had started a market trial with Dreamer Corporation’s BluTV Internet TV service. If you select BluTV from Oppo’s splash screen, it brings up the BluTV menu, which was limited to a few uninspiring games and widget apps (weather, etc.) at press time. The company is also working on implementing streaming music from a DLNA-compatible server, but this wasn’t ironed out at press time. This is a nice start, but it’s not as impressive as the streaming sets out there from LG, Sony, Samsung, and others. That’s the lone reason this player gets a 4.5 instead of a 5 for its Features rating.
To make sure we bleed at the edge, up to the minute, I asked Oppo as we went to press whether the BDP-83 or BDP-83SE will be firmware upgradeable to 3D Blu-ray. At press time, the answer was no. We don’t anticipate a yes answer to this question, but I suppose we’ll keep asking for a while. Just in case.