The Oppo BDP-103 Darbee Edition is about as good as it gets with disc playback and supports this with unusual "Darbee" picture enhancements and strong network media support.
Last year, we reviewed the Australian version of the Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player. Now, while that one remains available, an enhanced version of it has been released, with the slightly strange "Darbee Edition" moniker.
I'll talk more about Darbee shortly. For now, just know that it is a unique video processor designed to enhance the viewing experience. And that, unlike so many overwrought claims for various signal processors, Darbee arguably does the trick.
The underlying player is pretty much identical — apart from the Darbee-associated processor — to the player previously reviewed. It is well equipped with connections: two HDMI outputs (which can help with compatibility with older equipment) and two HDMI inputs (so you can use the quality video circuitry within this unit with lesser source devices). The front-panel HDMI input supports MHL, so you can plug some Android phones into it to convey audio and video in high-definition digital.
There are also plenty of audio outputs: optical and coaxial digital, plus 7.1 channel analog.
Plus USB, front and (two here) back, and Ethernet at the back. A Wi-Fi dongle and a neat little stand for it are supplied. You don't need to plug in USB memory for things like BD-Live operation because 1GB of "persistent storage" is built in, but if you do, the provision of two USB sockets at the back means you can still happily use the Wi-Fi dongle in the rear USB socket and leave the front one free for ad hoc connection of USB sticks with multimedia files. Or for connecting a USB keyboard to enter text if you're using some of the internet capabilities.
This is a highly versatile, highly controllable player. In addition to CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, it supports Super Audio CD and DVD Audio. It can decode the audio of both of these formats (Direct Stream Digital and the Dolby TrueHD-like Meridian Lossless Packing, respectively) and feed them out as full-resolution PCM. It can also stream DSD directly if your receiver/amplifier supports that. Or, of course, decode to analog.
The unit supports Blu-ray 3D and has the ability to scale up content to 4K.
One aspect of performance that did disappoint a little in last years Oppo was the conversion of Australian 576i50 DVDs and the occasional Australian 1080i50 Blu-ray to progressive scan format. This was fully automated and occasionally failed to use the appropriate film mode deinterlacing. However, Oppo is a company that is keen on improving its products. Since then, Oppo has added a manual mode so that you can force it into the Film or Video mode as appropriate (the former for most discs), making it always produce the very best picture quality. Since then, Oppo seems to have enhanced the automatic function as well, reducing the number of incorrect decisions it makes.
Now to Darbee. Darbee processing is actually available in a stand-alone product, called the "Darblet". An AU$400 stand-alone product, so the AU$220 premium you play for this player over the non-Darbee version is pretty good value for money. Especially since you can use it with other devices via the player's HDMI inputs.
Darbee processing performs two very clever functions. First, it identifies sharpish objects in the picture and enhances their sharpness. Second, it identifies objects in the picture and enhances their contrast levels locally.
It does the sharpness somehow without the kind of ringing and ghosting conventional sharpness and edge enhancement processors normally produce. With good quality Blu-ray content, it tended to make the picture easier on the eye due to the tighter apparent focus, especially on a large front projector screen. With standard definition content (SDTV, DVD) the result was an increase in harshness. Native HDTV tended to look more attractive processed by Darbee.
The contrast enhancements added a sense of drama to the picture with HD Blu-ray content but seemed to have less effect on DVDs. Darbee says that the process helps the picture to "pop" — and indeed it did.
I shall confess that I don't entirely approve. I prefer my music in some form of "Pure Direct", and my vision with no processing, other than as close to possible of a full restoration of the original picture. But if I did want any kind of vision enhancements, Darbee ones are one of the very few that actually make things look better. And you don't have to use Darbee — you can switch it off.
The player has excellent control over your discs: five fast-forwards and reverse speeds, four slow-mo ones in both directions (including with Blu-ray) and frame stepping both ways. You can change output resolution on the fly or have the unit output the original resolution of the source (although it's hard to see, now, why you would want to).
You can happily make this unit your main media player. It will display your photos, play your music and run your videos served up either over the network or via USB. There are a few exceptions. It would not play my double-rate 5.6MHz DSD files, although it was happy with the regular 2.8MHz ones. That aside, it handled all the normal audio formats and the abnormal ones, such as multichannel high-resolution FLAC tracks, which is quite a rare feature. Navigation through long lists of content served up via DLNA was pretty snappy, with page-skip keys to get you around quickly.
There is also now an iOS iPad app for controlling media lists. The other app (for iOS and Android) pretty much just replicates the regular remote. This app accesses your servers not as DLNA servers, but as attached storage that the player can read (you may have to enter a password). So you don't get the Album/Artist/Genre/Composer-type access structures that your DLNA server might offer up. If your folder structure is sensible, you ought to be able to find your content all right (navigation was pretty fast).
The unit also has bunch of internet-based resources, not all of which work in Australia (this is constantly changing, so it's hard to say definitively). Those provided and some of which are available are Picasa, CinemaNow, FilmFresh, YourTube, Pandora Internet Radio and Rhapsody.
Oppo is in the business of providing high-quality Blu-ray players, and because it does little else, it is constantly improving them. For example, when the non-Darbee version of the player was first released, it did not support DSD Audio files. That came with a firmware upgrade. For this review, I used the latest Beta-version firmware, which has a page-long list of enhancements.
But right now, the Oppo BDP-103 Darbee Edition is a high-quality universal disc player with excellent network media support.