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Oppo Digital DV-983H

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Affordable reference DVD player provides multiple output resolutions.


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Over the last few years, Oppo Digital has carved out a reputation as a small company doing big things in the DVD player world. Flying below the slings and arrows of the bloody Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war, Oppo has released a handful of affordable upconverting DVD players that have done a great job making standard-definition material look as good as possible on today's HD displays.

Oppo Digital's latest DVD player — the DV-983H — is a new reference player, and it represents the company's new flagship model. It has a new and elegant chassis design, full 1080p upconversion, and 7.1 audio support. At $399, it represents a remarkable value with image-processing horsepower that can compete head-on against reference DVD players that typically cost in the thousands of dollars.

Awkwardly for Oppo, of course, the 983H's development started months ago — well before there was any end in sight for the aforementioned HD format war. Were the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war still confounding the future of optical media, the 983H might have a clearer path to success. As it is, the demise of HD DVD gives Blu-ray a clear path away from today's standard-definition DVDs, which will surely reduce 983H's potential market.

However, as anyone who has been following technology for a while knows, change rarely happens as quickly as either companies or consumers hope. That leaves market opportunities for Oppo's new reference DVD player. DVD libraries won't go away overnight, and both consumers and businesses are still going to require DVD playback for several months and probably years — even as new Blu-ray Disc (BD) content players become available.

The good news for Oppo is that during the transition to HD content, both resident and business users will also be migrating to high-definition displays; thus, they will expect the highest-quality image, regardless of the source. Many Blu-ray players offer DVD playback support — and some even claim upconversion capabilities — however, upconversion is clearly not the focus of Blu-ray players, and upconverting well has yet to be a strength of any player in this price range.

In the commercial market, $399 represents an excellent value. Indeed, Oppo's introduction will likely have a great impact on far more expensive players — particularly given the now shorter-than-expected life span of a reference player. Admittedly, it's a harder proposition for consumers — even high-end videophiles — because it's a similar cost to many Blu-ray players. For the money, one could also make a significant dent into upgrading a DVD collection to BD. Still, the 983H may be the best way to get the most life out of a vast DVD collection.

BUILT-IN IMAGE PROCESSOR

Compared to other Oppo Digital models, the DV-983H's borderless, black face panel has an understated elegance that's certainly been created to say “premium.” While the rest of the device — from the remote to the back panel (excepting 7.1 audio support compared to 5.1) — is similar to Oppo's 981HD model, Oppo has bestowed the 983H with Anchor Bay Technologies' second-generation ABT1018 vertical-and-horizontal scaling chip. That's essentially the same 10-bit processing Anchor Bay uses in its $2,000 DVDO iScan VP30 standalone video processor.

The result is a noticeable reduction in moiré artifacts on particularly difficult scene material, such as the racetrack stands and steps along the river, in the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD or on standard-resolution test patterns. Obviously, you can't make high definition out of nothing. More literally, you can't display the sharpness of high definition if you don't start with enough pixels, but the elimination of scaling artifacts goes a long way toward the clarity of high definition — even on a large screen.

Previous Oppo models have used Faroudja's DCDi for de-interlacing, but the DV-983H incorporates Anchor Bay's ABT102 de-interlacer to perform the initial conversion from 480i to 480p, prior to scaling. The ABT102, an optional “precision de-interlacing card,” is an extra $500 when added to the VP30 video processor. With the same functionality on a single ASIC, the ABT102 chipset gives the 983H excellent de-interlacing capabilities for dramatically reducing “jaggies” on sharp diagonal lines and performing smooth text rolls and crawls over video. This is evident in a variety of test material — including the flag video and waving-line test pattern “jaggies” tests from the HQV Benchmark, fast moving footage of sporting events, and test material from Digital Video Essential. As with past Oppo models, I did see rather serious jutter on some of the obscure film transfer cadences on the HQV Benchmark disc (i.e., 6:4 and 8:7) — although that is not likely to be an issue in many real-life viewing situations.

The 983H performs best when connected to the display via HDMI — although your display must be HDCP-compliant. The 983H can also now upconvert analog component output to 1080i and 1080p, provided that you manually set the primary output to component video and completely disconnect any HDMI cable. (The 983H also includes S-Video, composite, and bizarrely, an RCA video cable in the box — but these outputs clearly defeat the purpose of the product.) Also similar to past models, the 983H requires you to manually set the output resolution to match your display — lest all that scaling power be compromised by the display's need to do it again. Similarly, you'll want to configure the audio output to match the available sound system, including various available mix-down options if 7.1 is not available.

DVD AND BEYOND

Clearly, Oppo Digital would have been in a better position with the DV-983H had the HD format war continued, causing buyers to hold off on any serious move toward Blu-ray. However, even with the resolution of the format war, it will take time for Blu-ray libraries to overtake the number of DVDs in the marketplace. It will also take some time before affordable Blu-ray players offer the kind of upconversion performance that Oppo delivers today with the DV-983H. Indeed, Oppo itself is working on such a model, but it is likely to be several months at best before such a player is ready for delivery. In the meantime, the DV-983H represents an affordable reference DVD-player alternative.


PRODUCT SUMMARY

Company: Oppo Digital www.oppodigital.com

Pros: High-quality upconversion to HD, including 1080p. Improved de-interlacing from the included Anchor Bay Technologies' chipset.

Cons: Price is similar to next-generation Blu-ray Disc players.

Price: $399


SPECIFICATIONS

Playable disc formats: DVD, DVD-R, SACD, DVD-Audio

Output resolutions: 480p, 576p PAL, 720p, 1080i, 1080p

Video outputs: HDMI 1.3, component video, composite video, S-Video

Audio outputs: 2×RCA stereo, 8×RCA 7.1-channel surround, 1×RCA digital audio, optical audio

Included cables: HDMI-HDMI, RCA stereo audio, and RCA composite video

Warranty: One year parts and labor



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