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The standard definition DVD player market is now in two places. Firstly we have more cheap DVD players than I can poke a stick at fighting for market share, and secondly we are starting to come to the end of the standard definition DVD with both HD-DVD and BlueRay both round the corner. Some people are often of the mind “why should I pay more than £25 for a DVD player when there are so many to choose from at this level”? and some people recognise that you get what you pay for and a lot of the time a cheap player really will show its true colours when compared to something even marginally more expensive. So it’s a complicated market that reasonably new entrant OPPO Digital has entered, but who you might ask are they?

OPPO Digital are based in Mountain View, CA and are the US arm of BBK Electronics who are a huge Chinese market leader and who have been a private label OEM for companies such as Denon, NEC and BOSE. Manufacturing all sorts of electronics gear, BBK Electronics is a market leader in China and looking to expand globally hence the creation of their North American arm – OPPO Digital.

Their first product which we have managed to get hold of is the DV-971H MPEG4/DivX DVD player with DVI output. It has been making waves in the industry but you still might not have heard of it however now its time to change that. Believe me – it really is. Incidentally before I get truly started I will say I am reviewing the US model of this player which is supplied with a US plug however it will run on a UK power supply since it has a universal power supply – it just requires a plug adapter. There is a European model called the BBK DV-971H which features a SCART socket which the US does not. However I’d be surprised if you were looking to use this player with that connector type.

OPPO Digital DV-971H

Contents


So what is in the box? Well firstly I will say it was well packed and protected well from any knocks which is a comforting sight. Delicate items such as DVD players do not always travel well and since this one came from the other side of the world I was pleased to see it arrive protected. The DVD player is inside (obviously) as is the manual, the remote (including batteries) and the DVI lead. On ordering a DVI->HDMI converter can be requested if your screen does not have DVI. My only comment here is that the DVI->HDMI lead supplied was significantly shorter than the DVI->DVI lead and they cannot be joined without an adapter. That said, a DVI lead is normally fairly pricey so it is refreshing to see something of such value included with the player. A standard composite video and audio lead is also provided as a back up.

Aesthetics


The player itself is not ugly. It is very slim which is an incredibly popular form factor in today’s market and uses blue lights around the power button and the eject button when powered up. The front display is also blue on a black background. It is quite sexy but it is also quite plain in a fairly understated way however perhaps the drawer front could have been finished with the brushed steel look of the rest of the player facia. The blue light for the eject button is a little bright for my liking too.

OPPO Digital DV-971H

OPPO Digital DV-971H

Ergonomics


The buttons on the player itself function well enough however the main gripe I had here is unlike other players, the “open drawer” button does not turn the DVD player on and open the drawer straight away – instead the DVD player has to be powered on and then the drawer opened which in itself would not be so bad but the player takes a few seconds to read the current disc (particularly if it is a DivX disc) which overrides the “open drawer” command so I end up sitting in front of it for a few seconds before I can use it.

The drawer itself is very thin and this leads me to think the build quality is not quite up there with other more well known brands however that is really just a perception – I assume to keep the device so thin the drawer of course has to be very thin however it might have been better if a little more sturdy. The buttons feel solid if a little stiff but otherwise no complaints here.

The remote control is possibly the least exciting part of this package. It does not look very fetching and the plastic over the buttons seems to magnify the numbers underneath which is quite unnecessary. At first I found the remote to not be particularly well laid out but a few uses and I was a lot happier – even the feel of the buttons grew on me however its still not anywhere near the best looking remote control I’ve seen. I would imagine a lot of people that would buy this player would use a multi function universal remote anyway.

So far this does not sound too encouraging but let me tell you now why you should buy this DVD player if you have a high definition capable TV.

Picture Quality


I could probably just sum this section up in three words, but “Oh.. My.. God!” is probably a bit of a poor way to cover such a critical section. The DV-971H can output DVDs through the following resolutions: 480p, 540p, 576p, 720p and 1080i. Without going into a resolution lesson, this means it can push out progressive scan images up to 1280 wide and 720 pixels high, and can output an interlaced image up to 1920 wide and 1080 pixels high. It will upconvert all DVDs it plays into these resolutions. There is such as choice here because each screen is different and therefore different resolutions will look better on different screens.

The screen I used to test this was an LCD screen which is 1366 pixels wide and 768 pixels high. The best fit here was to use the 720p setting. This means the screen is modifying the picture slightly to make it fill the screen, however going to 1080i resulted in a less sharp image in places, as well as producing an interlaced image which in this reviewer’s opinion is not as pleasing to the eye compared to a progressive one.

Everything about the picture is just phenomenal. The colours are vibrant and the clarity is superb. I was truly amazed at how it could create something from nothing and do it so well. Bearing in mind a DVD will have a relatively low resolution of around 480 pixels high, to upscale it to 720 pixels is making up information where there was none so I have always been very suspicious of players with this functionality. I need not of been in this instance as the jaw dropping quality of the picture the Oppo produces really seems to be flawless. Flesh tones are accurately produced and black levels are deep and detailed. There also appears to be no “green push” where the colour green can be overly pronounced which is a common observation with DVD players using the Faroudja chipset. I have watched a fair few DVDs on this player and so far have not noticed any macro blocking either. That is not to say it isn’t there, but I didn’t see any when I was watching movies. Perhaps I was too engrossed in the players other qualities, and perhaps a large projected image would reveal more here however even then, I think you would have to look quite hard to see such an artefact. One of my main bugbears with my old player was the noticeable layer change. I wouldn’t say this is 100% gone but I will say I didn’t see it once on the Oppo. I am sure if I say it isn’t visible any more someone will correct me but the fact that I didn’t notice it is good enough for me and is all I could hope for.

There does seem to be a slight problem with one aspect of the video production with regard to edge enhancement. Bizarrely this only seems to happen vertically and is only noticeable in certain situations where there is a bright light colour on a dark background. After a bit of searching it does seem this is a known issue and Oppo Digital are looking to fix it in the next firmware release (which I might add are released via their web site and therefore anyone can upgrade their home player to the latest version of software). There is an optional screen saver which activates if the player is left paused or stopped for too long to prevent screen burn, however I found that the images on the screen saver actually left impressions on my LCD screen when left for too long so I disabled this feature. A great idea, but I am not too sure on the implementation here.

OPPO Digital DV-971H

Audio


For most of the audio testing, the player was using a digital coaxial lead connected to an amplifier however as you will be aware, it is not possible to output DVD-Audio over an optical or coaxial digital connection and therefore the 5.1 analogue connectors were used. I was very surprised at the quality of the DVD-Audio acoustics this almost budget player produced. It was bright and enthusiastic, perhaps a little overly so in places taking some of the warmth from the music but overall I am happy to replace my other DVD-Audio machine with this device. The player also features a selectable audio delay to progressive displays to make sure the audio is in sync with the video.

DiVX


One of the players main features is that is can play DivX and XviD compressed files. I tried several files including ones I had made myself and only found one which it wouldn’t play. That might have been a problem with the way I compressed it but it worked fine on my computer. Perhaps it was a particularly old codec – I am not sure but everything else seemed to play back with no problems whatsoever. Fast forward, rewind and pause functions all worked as expected.

Conclusion


A very positive review for an out of the ordinary DVD player, the Oppo Digital DV-971H is remarkable in that is costs relatively little, and yet performs well enough to outshine everything else I have seen. My only requests for future software updates would be:
  • vertical edge enhancement to be resolved
  • a quicker time to allow access to the machine
  • turn the open drawer button into a power on button and to be instant whenever pressed
  • add 768p to the supported resolutions

However some of these might be due to hardware restrictions and the player in its current state rates as excellent (more so when the edge enhancement issue is resolved). If these features cannot make it into this player then here’s hoping for the next Oppo Digital player, and there will be one someday – my only fear there is whether they live up to the frighteningly high standard they have set themselves here.  Oppo Digital have seemingly come from nowhere to be industry leaders in an instant. And if that's not worth a round of applause, I don't know what is.



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