Oppo BDP-83 Universal Disc Player

Blu-ray just celebrated its 3-year anniversary, and many of the issues that plagued the format are nearly forgotten—profile issues, pathetically slow boot-up, and of course, HD DVD. For a while, there was really only one choice if you wanted a high-performance Blu-ray player—the Sony PlayStation 3—but the market has evolved, with models from Panasonic, Pioneer, and Samsung making inroads into the PS3's huge market share.

Last September, a little Internet-only company called Oppo made some waves at CEDIA when it showed a prototype of its upcoming Blu-ray player—the BDP-83. Based in Mountain View, California, Oppo is known on the A/V forums for its superior product performance and first-rate customer service. In my opinion, Oppo manufactured the best DVD player ever with the DV-983H. Its 1080p upconversion was second to none, and it played DVD-Audio discs and SACDs as well! But the timing of its release couldn't have been worse—the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray had just ended, and an SD player wasn't going to make a huge impact in an HD world.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Oppo learned a lot from the DV-983H, and many of its features have found their way into the BDP-83. Is it the ultimate Blu-ray player? Read on and see…

I've used and reviewed quite a few Blu-ray players over the past three years, and one of my common criticisms is that most of them are plagued with bugs at their release. Sure, multiple firmware updates are issued over the first few months of life, and ultimately the quirks are ironed out, but why didn't the manufacturers find these before releasing the products to the general public?

Oppo found a great way around this problem. In late 2008, the company recruited some early beta testers from A/V Internet forums to test the BDP-83 and find many of the bugs before the player hit the market. A few months later, it launched an Early Adoption Program (EAP) in which 350 applicants were randomly selected to buy the player before its general release and vote on whether it was ready for prime time. When 70 percent of the users voted "yes," those who lost the EAP lottery would have the opportunity to purchase the player and provide their own feedback.

This approach is brilliant. With any new product, there's bound to be compatibility problems with the plethora of electronic products gracing equipment racks. Scores of people signed up for the EAP, and many issues were fixed before the player was deemed ready for release by over 92 percent of EAP users. A limited early release started in May, and by late June, the BDP-83 was available for sale on Oppo's website.

Like the PS3 and many other Blu-ray players on the market, the BDP-83 can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to PCM for output to an AVR or pre/pro over HDMI. Additionally, it uses a Cirrus CS4382 digital-to-analog audio converter to decode and output the lossless audio from its 7.1 analog outputs. For newer AVRs and pre/pros with onboard decoding of the new audio formats, this player can send the raw bitstreams over HDMI, although you lose the secondary audio with PIP as well as the clicks and beeps in the menus of Blu-ray discs. If Secondary Audio is turned on in the Setup menu, some discs are authored in such a way that the SAP button on the remote will activate the secondary-audio track on the disc, but with titles from certain studios, this doesn't always work. For example, with Universal's U-Control, the only way to activate secondary audio is to enable U-Control from the disc's menu. If it's not enabled, pushing the SAP button doesn't turn on the audio. The BDP-83 is the first Blu-ray player I've used with this capability, but given the different BD-Java implementations from various studios, 100-percent compatibility is not guaranteed.

Video processing for the HDMI output uses Anchor Bay's acclaimed VRS (Video Reference Series) ABT2010 chipset, which provides 10-bit video scaling up to 1080p and offers noise reduction, edge and detail enhancement, and a demo mode that splits the screen to see exactly how the enhancements affect the picture quality. The component output's processing doesn't utilize this technology—it's handled by a custom-made MediaTek decoder. For users who own a lot of foreign DVDs, the BDP-83 includes PAL/NTSC conversion for disc playback and video output, subject to DVD and BD region restrictions. (I don't own any PAL discs, so I wasn't able to test this function.)

The BDP-83 includes Deep Color support, although there's no commercially available programming that uses it. According to Oppo, if your display supports Deep Color, it's still beneficial because the extended color depth can be used to preserve the precision of video processing. Owners of constant-height or anamorphic projectors will relish the zoom mode and scaling within the player, but since I don't own such a setup, I wasn't able to test how well it works.

This is a Profile 2.0 (BD-Live) player, so it must offer at least 1GB of persistent storage. Many companies require you to purchase a memory card for compliance, but Oppo has included 1GB internally, and you can expand the capacity via two USB inputs (front and back) and choose whether to use the internal or external memory in the Setup menu.

An Ethernet port on the rear lets you connect the player to the Internet for BD-Live online features and firmware updates. Some Blu-ray players from Sony offer wireless capability, which isn't included here, but for $80 you can purchase a wireless system from Oppo if you don't have hard-wired Ethernet running to your equipment rack. For those not wanting to connect to the Internet, the firmware can be updated via CD or USB thumb drive. I've updated from the Internet and via thumb drive, and both ways are speedy and painless, taking less than five minutes to complete.

USB drives can also be used to play a wide range of media, including AVCHD video, MP3, and WMA—unfortunately, WMA Pro, Lossless, and Voice aren't supported. For a complete list of compatible formats, check Oppo's website.

The build quality is fantastic, from its solid 11.3-pound weight to gold plating on its analog connectors. Additional goodies include an IR in and out for third-party remote systems, the aforementioned USB ports, and an optional RS-232 port ($89). Aesthetically speaking, the Oppo is a little on the industrial side, but I buy equipment based on its performance, not on how good it looks in my rack.