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Oppo OPDV971H 720p/1080i Upconverting DVD player Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 March 2006
Article Index
Oppo OPDV971H 720p/1080i Upconverting DVD player
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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.

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