Oppo OPDV971H 720p/1080i Upconverting DVD player 
Home Theater Video Players DVD Players
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Wednesday, 01 March 2006

In this day and age, it seems everyone, short of your immediate family, is manufacturing a DVD player. However, with so many manufacturers throwing their hats into the ring, it can become somewhat daunting as to which player to buy. Sure, you can stick with the brands you know, like Sony and Denon (to name a few), but all too often, you may end up paying a little more for the name recognition than for the performance. The flip side is taking a chance on a lesser-known brand or fledgling company, only to quickly end up with a technological boat anchor. Compound the predicament with new digital technology, as well as the supposed pending release of high-definition disc formats, and you’ve got a lot to ponder before making the trip to your local retailer. Well, the OPDV971H DVD player from Oppo Digital may just be the answer to what ails you.

A relatively new company here in the U.S., Oppo Digital is the North American offshoot of the consumer electronics giant BBK of China. BBK has been in business for quite some time and boasts a respectable track record, with worldwide product sales reaching Sony-like levels on some SKUs. While Oppo may still be in its infancy, it’s nice to know Mom and Dad are here to see junior through to the real world.

Retailing for a very modest $199 and sold directly through Oppo’s own website and select retailers, the Oppo OPDV971H DVD player is a strong candidate for today’s budget-conscious consumer. Out of the box, the OPDV971H is very attractive, featuring one of the thinnest chasses I’ve seen, measuring in at a touch over 16-and-a-half inches wide by 10-and-a-half inches deep and just under two inches tall. Weighing in at approximately five-and-a-half pounds, the OPDV971H is a DVD player that will easily fit into almost any equipment rack or home entertainment system. The OPDV971H sports a silver-gray chassis with grayish blue accents and is about as clutter-free as they come in terms of faceplate design, with only four buttons controlling power, eject, play/pause and stop. The disc tray is almost unnoticeable and the thin LCD display isn’t much better, despite its bright blue glow during normal playback. Staying with the LCD display, the way in which it displays information is rather unique to the Oppo OPDV971H. I use the word “unique” because I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to describe the rather cryptic way the display renders type, which on more than one occasion had me wishing for a translator. Turning my attention aft, the OPDV971H features a single DVI output which facilitates the player’s ability to up-convert standard definition discs to either 480p, 720p or 1080i, to list a few. Next to the DVI output are the OPDV971H’s 5.1 analog outputs, as well as the more traditional audio/video connections consisting of composite video, S-video, component video, coaxial digital audio and optical audio outs. I was surprised to find 5.1 audio outs on such a budget piece, but welcomed their inclusion and applaud Oppo for giving even the common man a little taste of the higher end. The OPDV971H also has a hard-wired power cord and comes packaged with a pair of RCA audio cables, as well as a standard composite video cable. The packaged digital video cables in the form of a DVI cable, as well as a DVI to HDMI cable, are a huge step in the right direction on Oppo’s part. I can become annoyed when manufacturers feature the latest high resolution video capabilities in their players, then stiff you on the appropriate cables to take advantage of such technology. Hats off to Oppo for going the extra mile here.

Turning my focus inward, I was astounded by the list of formats supported by the OPDV971H DVD player. Beyond traditional DVD and CD playback, the OPDV971H supports DVD-A, DIVX, HDCD, WMA, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW and Kodak Picture CD, as well as both NTSC and PAL formatted discs. Along with supporting multiple formats the OPDV971H features DCDi processing from Faroudja, which goes a long way in eliminating “jaggies” and other motion artifacts from the DVD image. The OPDV971H also has Per-pixel Motion De-interlacing as well as FilmMode Processing for proper de-interlacing of 3:2 and 2:2 pull-down material, resulting in a truer cinematic experience. The OPDV971H features progressive scanning, but it is only available through its DVI output. Also through its DVI output, you can take advantage of several higher resolutions such as 480p, 540p, 576p, 720p and 1080i. On the audio side of things, the Oppo OPDV971H features surround sound decoding coming by way of Dolby Digital and DTS audio. Lastly, the OPDV971H has several virtual surround sound modes under such names as Concert, Live, Dance, Techno, Classic and Soft. The inclusion of virtual surround sound settings in the DVD player itself is a bit odd, since most receivers come packaged with similar settings as well, never the less, I’m certain some users will rejoice in the feature.

Which brings me to the remote. Just before my deadline, I was startled to find out that Oppo began shipping the OPDV971H with a new and improved remote. My first thought was, thank heavens, because the original remote was the kind that nightmares were made of. A quick email to the good people at Oppo and I was back in business with the new remote in hand. While the new remote is leaps and bounds better, it still has its issues. It is larger than the previous remote, which makes it much more comfortable in the palm of your hand. The buttons have become larger and more legible, but their placement is still a bit random and some of their labels are still a tad on the small side. Also, the new remote features glow-in-the-dark keys, which aren’t quite as luminous as true backlighting. However, it is a huge improvement over the old.

I had the pleasure of using the OPDV971H in a variety of systems, ranging from super-budget to my reference home theater set-up. Since the OPDV971H has been getting rave reviews from other publications about how it performs above and beyond its price class, I thought it best to go ahead and test it in my reference home theater. Granted, the Oppo seems a natural fit for a bedroom system, provided you have at least a TV with a DVI connection to take full advantage of the Oppo’s performance.

The OPDV971H was easy enough to place on my equipment rack and making the requisite connections took no time at all. I split my time with the OPDV971H between my Denon 4806 receiver and my new reference, the Outlaw Audio 970/7075 home theater combo. Since my projection system is between rooms at the moment, I hooked up my 42-inch Vizio plasma screen for the duration of the review. Throw in my ever-ready Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 speaker system and a hand full of Monster Cable for both audio and video, and I was in business in no time.

The OPDV971H’s onscreen menus were a snap to navigate and, within minutes, I felt I had made enough adjustments to accurately begin my evaluation. I would like to point out that the OPDV971H’s manual is very informative and well-written. However, the way in which the onscreen menus are laid out may make it a bit redundant. This is clearly a player aimed at all skill levels. After what was a very brief set-up, I felt I had spent enough time with the OPDV971H ‘s remote and went ahead and programmed my Harmony 880 universal remote to control the Oppo as well.

Music and Movies
I put the Oppo OPDV971H through its paces, starting with former Hootie and the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker’s debut solo album, Back to Then (Hidden Beach Recordings). This HDCD disc is full of little musical gems beyond the run of the mill pop tunes Rucker is more known for. Starting with the track “Wild One,” I was struck by the OPDV971H’s midrange performance. While not as detailed as some players, it was essentially right on, which is a plus for a player in this price bracket. Darius’ vocals were warm, smooth and above all pleasing, glossing over certain details in an attempt to present the clearest musical performance the OPDV971H’s circuits could muster. The highs were good, though they lacked air and sparkle, which made for a much more subdued sound that was a little rolled off at the frequency extreme. While this might raise a red flag for some of you, it’s important to keep in mind that the OPDV971H’s high frequencies never became harsh or overly digital-sounding even at insane volumes, which for $200 player is a feat in itself.

Focusing on the OPDV971H’s bass performance, I found it came up a bit short. What was there was very well-defined and fairly nimble, yet it failed to really grab me and plunge the deepest recesses. This made for an overall performance that was very vocal heavy and a little thick in the mid region. However, I found the OPDV971H’s soundstage to be above average for such a budget player, allowing the music to find the very edges of my room and fill it from front to back with music. The center image was steadfast if not just a touch wider than normal. Moving on to the track “Exodus,” I encountered more of the same. The highs retained their non-fatiguing nature but never fully blossomed, leaving cymbals sounding a bit unnatural and flat. Once again, the midrange reined supreme, bringing Rucker to the front of the stage while maintaining a fairly good balance with the other musicians on the track, though the bass failed to really bring the performance home. Dynamically, the OPDV971H was good, but it lacked the ability to start and stop on a dime, and it wasn’t quite as explosive as some other players in its category. I struggled with a way to effectively describe the Oppo OPDV971H’s somewhat unique sound. I was expecting it to be easy, since many players in the OPDV971H’s price range are rather harsh, bright and often all too digital-sounding for their own good. Yet the OPDV971H was none of these things, yet it wasn’t really transparent, either. It wasn’t until the track “This is My World” that I was able to put my finger on it. Picture, if you will, standing in a room with a performer of your choice. For the sake of argument, let’s assume it is Mr. Rucker. Now, a number of players (and much more costly ones at that) will attempt and sometimes come close to matching the actual event. Others will interpret and recreate it for you. The remaining ones will butcher it completely and thus turn you off music forever and ever, leaving you to wallow in self-hatred and sorrow. Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme. Well the Oppo OPDV971H falls into that second category. It’s a fine player and attempts to recreate the recording as honestly as possible without offending the listeners’ ears. I could chastise the OPDV971H as being overly polite, but I won’t, simply because at $200, its sonic attributes far outnumber the bits it might gloss over.

Moving on to multi-channel music, I popped in the DualDisc recording of Dave Matthews Band’s latest, Stand Up (Columbia). On the track “Old Dirt Hill,” the OPDV971H’s bass firmed up quite a bit. It still didn’t plunge extremely deep, but the resolution of the kick drum was more in line with players costing twice as much. Highs remained somewhat soft and a bit flat for my tastes; however, in my slightly bright room, they never offended. The cymbals and handclaps lacked the air and sparkle I’ve become accustomed to, which robbed the music of a little rhythmic punch. The midrange was very good, clear, yet still managing to capture Dave’s scratchy drawl. Dynamically, the OPDV971H’s performance improved over standard Redbook CDs, but it just didn’t grab me. Switching to the track “American Baby,” the simple violin intro was clear as a bell and came close to sounding a lot like the real thing. The drums gained a bit of size and weight, which helped beef up the performance and get my toes tapping a little bit. Highs still didn’t quite come to life the way the midrange and the bass had. Dynamically, the OPDV971H was just too tame for my tastes. One area where the OPDV971H impressed me was its recreation of space. Soundstage is one thing, which the OPDV971H does very well, but balancing multiple speakers is another. The OPDV971H’s surround sound performance was very good, very natural and above all sublime.

I quickly turned my attention to movies, opting for one of my all-time personal favorites, “Gods and Monsters” (Universal Studios Home Video). The Bill Condon masterpiece, starring Brendan Fraser and Ian McKellen, chronicles the supposed last days of famed “Frankenstein” director James Whale. This film has it all: terrific acting, a wonderful screenplay, excellent directing and drop-dead gorgeous cinematography. Sticking with the sound for now, I wasn’t surprised by what I heard. Not wanting to repeat myself, I will say that the OPDV971H has a wonderful way with dialogue, which on a dialogue-driven film such as this, is a real treat. The actors’ voices were clear and intelligible and firmly grounded in their respective spaces. Even in scenes featuring multiple performers, sometimes even hundreds, it was clear who I was supposed to pay attention to and why, over voices just there for atmosphere. “Gods and Monsters” features several flashback scenes from the Great War, which were punchy and wonderfully enveloping through the OPDV971H, if not altogether gut-wrenching. The score was rendered beautifully, maintaining its delicate balance with the film’s other elements. Shifting my focus to the image itself, I was elated by what I saw. Keep in mind, I used the OPDV971H’s DVI output exclusively and set it to 720p (my Vizio’s preferred high resolution of choice) for the duration of my review. The OPDV971H’s color rendering and saturation capabilities were beyond what I had any right to expect from a player in this category. “Gods and Monsters” is a very colorful film, second only to “Moulin Rouge,” and the OPDV971H didn’t rob the film of any of it. The reds, greens and blues were very natural and free of bleed. The actors’ flesh tones were remarkably lifelike and maintained a proper balance between smoothness and natural grain. Subtle details like McKellen’s strands of white hair were rendered faithfully with excellent separation and detail. I did notice the black levels weren’t quite as dark as I would have liked. which led to a slightly washed-out image. Likewise, the white levels were a bit muted. Extreme darkness and lightness helps bring a more three-dimensional quality to an image, and while the OPDV971H was very good, it wasn’t great. During daylight exterior scenes, this wasn’t really a factor, but once the action moved inside or flashed back to one of the film’s black-and-white scenes, it quickly became apparent. Edge fidelity was also quite good, which helped mask a bit of spatial flattening that I had encountered. I rarely finish an entire movie when I’m reviewing, but the OPDV971H managed to keep me in my chair for the duration of the film, which is more than I can say for a lot of budget players.

I concluded my review of the Oppo OPDV971H with another favorite, the review staple “The Fifth Element” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). This Superbit edition of the film is a huge improvement over the lackluster original DVD release that seemed to be on loop in every major electronics store while I was in college. For the sake of time, let’s go right to “The Scene.” Ahh, the flying cars, the dreamy cityscape, the action and the romance, you get the idea. Sonically, the OPDV971H had a bit of trouble with this scene. It flatted the overall impact considerably and couldn’t quite swing with the rapid dynamic shifts. However, the OPDV971H didn’t shy away from the challenge and tried not to call too much attention to what it was leaving out. I was never offended by the treble coming from the numerous flying cars, nor was I completely rocked by the bass. The score was delicate and nimble and blended nicely with the chaos on the screen. The best thing about the OPDV971H performance with “The Fifth Element” was its surround sound presentation. The OPDV971H did a wonderful job placing me in the center of the futuristic city, enveloping me in the action in a way few players this side of $1,000 can match.

Turning my attention to the imagery, the film’s visuals were a sight to behold. The OPDV971H maintained its composure in all but the furthest reaches of the image. The film’s color saturation was kept in check without any signs of blooming. The OPDV971H’s internal scaling from Faroudja was excellent. I couldn’t detect any real signs of motion artifacts, even during the reckless car chase, nor did the Oppo inject any pixilation to the image. The black levels still were not as deep or as crisp as some, and the whites were still a bit recessed, but it never really got in the way of enjoying the film.

The Oppo OPDV971H proved to be much more adept at presenting movies than it did with just music, which is about par for the course, given that most users will being using it for this. Its picture quality is beyond what was previously available to consumers even two years ago at this price point, provided you’re able to take advantage of the OPDV971H’s DVI capabilities.

The Downside
My first concern with the Oppo OPDV971H is its build quality. While very stylish, there are aspects of it, mainly the disc tray, that seem a bit too cheap and prone to damage. Also, I would have liked to see a few more controls on the faceplate itself to aid in disc navigation in the event of a misplaced remote.

I can’t really understand why the folks at Oppo chose to put all their eggs in one basket when it came to the player’s video performance. Yes, including DVI capability is amazing at this level; however, if you don’t yet have a DVI-capable TV, then I’m afraid the Oppo isn’t worth it. To not even have progressive scanning through its component outputs is a major oversight.

The remote is still below my expectations, but I do recognize and applaud Oppo for trying to correct a bad situation with their earlier remote. This new remote is better, yet it doesn’t quite fit the bill if you need to be able to operate your equipment in the dark like I do.

With so many players out there, it can be daunting figuring out just which one to choose. Perhaps you’re looking for something to tide you over until the impending format war between HD-DVD and BluRay subsides. Or maybe you just want to take advantage of the new digital connection technology without breaking the bank. Whatever your reasons, shelling out $200 for the Oppo OPDV971H upsampling DVD player might not be a bad choice. If you’re looking for a player for your bedroom system or den, it might just be a perfect one. The OPDV971H’s above-average picture quality is easily worth the asking price and, when mated with a decent audio presentation, it quickly can become a budget player that is anything but.
Manufacturer Oppo
Model OPDV971H 720p/1080i Upconverting DVD player
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
HD Upconversion Yes

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