The Good Excellent image quality; upscaling to 1080p over HDMI; attractive, understated black design; multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio over HDMI; DivX/Xvid support; aspect-ratio control; can be made region-free with a simple hack.
The Bad Worth it only for use with 1080p TVs with an HDMI input; no component video output.
The Bottom Line Performing nearly as well as players costing four times the price, the Oppo DV-981HD is an unbeatable bargain for videophiles and enthusiasts.
Over the last couple of years, Oppo has garnered a reputation for making great-performing DVD players at reasonable prices. We tested and liked the Oppo DV-970HD, so we were definitely excited to get our hands on the company's newest model, the DV-981HD ($230). The DV-981HD is very similar to its predecessor, the DV-971HD (which we did not test) but there are two major differences between the models: the DV-981HD offers upscaling to 1080p over its HDMI output, and it lacks a component-video output. While the lack of a component output makes the DV-981HD less versatile, it also reinforces the fact that the real target market for this player is videophiles with 1080p, HDMI-capable HDTVs who want the best DVD upscaling performance at a reasonable price. If you fit that description, the Oppo DV-981HD delivers. When we reviewed the Oppo DV-970HD, we knocked the design a bit because we thought its silver plastic looked a bit cheap. While the DV-981HD has a similar design, we think the changes Oppo made really increased the attractiveness of this player. The basic, all-black design with little button clutter gives it a simple and refined look. It doesn't have the high-gloss finish that is currently in style, but we actually preferred the more muted look--and it's certainly less prone to fingerprints.
To the far left is a power button, with the disc tray to the right. Further right is the open/close button followed by the LED screen, then the Play and Stop buttons. We would have liked to have seen front panel chapter-forward/backward buttons--in case the remote goes missing--but they're not essential.
One gripe we have with a lot of DVD players is the bright lights that are often sprinkled across the front panel. While some may think they enhance the way the product looks, home theater purists often lament that they can distract from the movie watching experience. The DV-981HD offers the best of both worlds--it has the blue lights, but it also has the options to turn them off. Not only that, but the options are extensive--you can keep everything on, just turn off the blue LED lights, turn off the LEDs and dim the display, or turn everything off. With everything off, there is still a very small LED light on the power button, but sticklers can cover it up with a piece of tape if it's still too much. This is the kind of flexibility and attention to detail that has given the Oppo such a sterling reputation among home theater enthusiasts. The only nitpick we had was that the DV-981HD didn't remember the All Off setting when we turned the unit off--when we turned it back on, all the LEDs came on. This problem doesn't occur with Dim or LED Off selected--hopefully Oppo fixes the All Off issue in a firmware update.