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When the Oppo BDP-83 landed in the last half of 2009 it caused a minor sensation among videophiles and audio enthusiasts alike. Here was a truly universal player with superlative performance and a price tag that was a quarter of competitive players. Enter Cambridge Audio's 650BD: a player based on the same engine with better cosmetics and an even cheaper price to boot. Can it topple our favourite Blu-ray player?
If you're looking for a natty, but no-nonsense design, then Cambridge Audio makes some of the best. The front features a thick slab of brushed aluminium studded with a usable selection of playback controls. There is also a forward-facing USB slot plugged up with a rubber grommet, and a bright blue LED display. And when we say bright we mean almost piercingly so.
The remote control shares the minimalist, silver look of previous Cambridge Audio remotes, though it's arguably harder to use. While the cursor and Menu buttons are large and friendly, every other button is exactly the same size, which means you have to physically look at it to operate anything.
The Cambridge Audio 650BD is a Blu-ray player capable of playing virtually any disc — bar perhaps LaserDisc — and should appeal to people with large collections of DVD movies and a handful of HDCDs and DVD-Audio discs. The 650BD features Ethernet connectivity and is compatible with the latest BD-Live specification.
It will also replay a selection of media from USB disks, though not the Ethernet connection. We're hopeful about this last point as DLNA playback is a feature that was added to the Oppo after it was released. You see, the Cambridge Audio is based on the same MediaTek platform used by Oppo in its player. However, the Cambridge-based company has deviated a little from the design and used different digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and video systems.
Just as the player will play virtually any type of disc, it will also accept most connection types. Even though some people still use S-Video, manufacturers are abandoning it in drives, and so it's gratifying then to see an S-Video output on the Cambridge Audio. Other more common connections include a HDMI, component and composite ports, as well as one each of digital optical and coax.
The player is region-free for DVD, but unfortunately is region-locked for Blu-ray discs. If you want to pay a little extra, Cambridge Audio will sell you a Blu-ray region-free model for AU$1199. By contrast, the cost to region-unlock the Oppo BDP-83 is included in the price (which at the time of writing is AU$1190).
As we've already pointed out, we're quite taken with the BDP-83, and so the Cambridge Audio was going to have a hard time to convince us that it was the better deal. We tested the two head-to-head and found they both performed superbly. This was going to be harder than we thought...
Modern Blu-rays take some time to load, especially ones loaded with BD-Live, and this is due to the number-crunching this content creates. Our test disc for this is the Matthew Fox thriller Vantage Point. We found it took 45 seconds to boot up the movie, which is almost as quick as a PS3 — a good result given the Sony device uses a dedicated Cell processor!
Given that the 650BD misses out on the VRS processing of the Oppo, we were ill-prepared for how well the player would acquit itself with video playback. In the synthetic benchmark tests, the player passed everything, including the notoriously difficult 24p "film res" test. Though as much as watching discs gives us a good idea of performance, no-one wants to watch test discs, so we also ran some real-world content.
First we ran Batman Begins, and found that the Cambridge was able to resolve shadow detail very well — the bricks behind Bruce Wayne as he wallows in solitary confinement were keenly reproduced. The following blizzard scenes were some of the best we've seen, and the player showed it was capable of natural colours and a significant level of 3D-like depth.
Similarly, the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray showed a high level of detail without fizzling away into noise. The opening tracking shot of the bridge scene was smooth and there wasn't any moire effects on the railing. Switching to the night scene on the roof there wasn't any trace of ghosting when Ving Rhames' character moves to stand behind Tom Cruise. This was mightily impressive as we've never seen this replayed so well — even the Oppo struggles here.
One of our favourite modes on the Oppo is DVD 24p, which helps to smooth out judder-type effects on movies while avoiding the haloing problems of 100Hz systems. Unfortunately, the Cambridge Audio misses out on this feature, but it performed very well regardless. There was a complete lack of judder as the camera tracks the planes as they buzz around King Kong's high-rise perch. Colours were bold, blacks deep (though with a faint tinge of green) and noise was kept at a minimum.
For testing, we plugged the Cambridge Audio into the Sony STRDA5400ES receiver — a very competent stereo performer for an AV amp — and conducted some listening tests.
First we tried some surround sound and found the Cambridge was a little shrill but very exciting with the Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray. It created a very convincing soundfield in the chase scene between the Green Goblin and Peter Parker, and we heard details in the rear channels we'd never heard before.
Next came music. We've run the Oppo BD-83 in concert with the Cambridge Audio DacMagic for music duties for some time now, and we were quite surprised that the AU$1000 650BD gave our AU$1800 combo a real run for its money in performance terms.
Out of the three decoders we think they ranked in this order for sound quality: the DacMagic, the 650BD Blu-ray player and finally the Sony receiver. We found there was more detail on the leading edge of notes on DACMagic, though both were very similar. The DacMagic got rid of a little bit of mid-range "hash", but the 650BD put in a surprisingly admirable performance. Lastly, while we like the Sony for replaying analog sources, the sound was fuller on the Blu-ray player when used to decode a CD source.
If you're looking for a very good all-round player then the Cambridge Audio should be your first choice. It boasts excellent visuals and audio that gives both our outboard DAC and the Oppo BDP-83 a run for its money. However, if your tastes run to video and streaming media then we'd say that the Oppo is the better deal. In the end though, both players are excellent in their own right.