Oppo 980 Review

Calling this a review might be a bit of an overstatement, I haven’t evaluated the player in depth but I’ve got a fairly long list of notes now on my impression of this player and I’ve had a chance to sit down an enjoy a few movies so far. If you are looking for a real review, the OppoDigital site points at a number of reviews.

The Oppo 980 is a standard definition player, it only supports the regular DVD format. While it supports up-conversion, it is not a high definition player. My purchasing criteria was pretty straight forward: HDMI support, up-conversion to 1080p, high quality playback. The Oppo DVD players have a strong following in the online community and are generally regarded as great value.

I did consider the Oppo 981 which has the Faroudja DCDi chip in it. The 981 is slightly more expensive, but with DCDi you will get better de-interlacing. Since standard DVDs are actually stored in an interlaced format, the quality of the de-interlacing can be important. DCDi does wonders when you have video content (vs. film) – video content is encoded in 2:2 pulldown whereas film is 2:3 pulldown (for details on this read about telecine for the basics). Since my primary viewing is properly encoded films on DVD, I wasn’t going to get a lot of benefit from DCDi in the 981. Additionally, there is a bandwidth problem in the implementation of the DCDi chip which in some scenes can cause additional macroblocking effects. If I watched a lot of TV series or material that was video (vs. film) based my decision might have been different.

A few bonus features that the 980 has: PAL support; USB2.0 connectivity; Customizable background screen; and support for the Divx Home Theater Profile. The PAL support came in handy, allowing me to use the PAL encoded setup DVD that the HCFR team has put together. This wasn’t critical as I have other calibration DVDs that work fine. The USB2.0 connection accepts thumb drives with .jpg files and will show them as a slide show. You can also put video or music files and play them back. You can grab an image from a DVD (or .jpg) and use it as your custom background – this is pretty cool.

The image (.jpg) display feature claims to have a high definition playback mode, but apparently this only works for 1080i output. Otherwise the image is internally scaled to 640×480 and then scaled to your output resolution. Additionally, there is a firmware problem that results in the image feature not using 100% of the output resolution – this results in a window boxing effect. Did I mention that the firmware can be easily upgraded? To check your firmware version: power on with no disc inserted and press the OSD button – I’m running with the latest DV980H-0B-0903.

I’ve also played a bit with the Divx support, but it is limited to videos which are encoded to the Divx Home Theater Profile – so 720×480×30fps or 720×576×25fps at a maximum. It is a neat feature, but I don’t really have a use for it at the moment.

There are some cool tricks that the Oppo supports. The first useful one is something called “Direct Play” – this will allow you to skip most of the warnings, previews, etc. at the start of a disc. As soon as the DVD will allow, press STOP and then press MENU. This has the odd side effect of dumping you into the middle of the menu system, but it can be a time saver. I should also note that it doesn’t always work.

The other noteworthy trick is the ability to change the region of the player, including making it region free. If you require this (I don’t) then a quick search on the net should uncover the sequence.

The packaging of the player was very nice. The manual leaves a little to be desired, but most people don’t even read it so this isn’t a big loss.  A 1m HDMI cable is included, too short for my needs, but useful for most people and nice that it was included in the cost of the player. The power cord was a bit wimpy, and in my case – not long enough (but my setup is a bit weird). The connector is a standard IEC (same as your desktop PC) so I had a longer one lying around.

I find that the remote control isn’t very powerful, and angle that the IR sensor accepts is a little bit limiting. Generally I use a programmable remote which has a very strong IR output so this isn’t a big issue.

In terms of viewing impressions, the image looks great no complaints on that front. The lack of the DCDi is quite obvious if video based material is shown (some previews) but the film performance is flawless so far. The layer change is very, very fast. I have not yet noticed one layer change on this player.

The actual transport can be a bit noisy at times. This is usually moving around menus and at the very start of a chunk of video (after you select from the menu). I’ve never heard any noise from it during a movie, but it is louder than some DVD players when navigating menus.

In summary – I’m very pleased with the Oppo 980. It was more expensive than some of the other up-converting players, but the layer change speed alone is worth the extra cost. The possibility of firmware upgrades is very cool, and the .jpg support has been a nice bonus so far.

Looking forward: Oppo is likely to release a Bluray player in the future, so I’ll be sure to keep an eye open for that (but a PS3 is a more likely candidate). If you’re reading this and concerned about the DCDi issue – look for the soon to be released 983 which will have the ABT chipset in it, and is likely to be one of the best DVD players ever.

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