Oppo DV-970HD review: Oppo DV-970HD

The graphical user interface is a little utilitarian, but we love the level of customization it provides. It's relatively easy to make fine adjustments such as adjusting the picture controls or setting the delay for surround-sound speakers. We also give it credit for being able to handle non-anamorphic wide-screen DVDs--using a combination of the "squeeze" mode and the adjustable zoom, we were able to properly fill the screen while maintaining the correct aspect ratio, even when switched to HD outputs. That's a big plus, considering that aspect ratio flexibility is lacking on a lot of older and current HDTVs. There are even some pretty wacky options such as Audio Tone, which changes the key of the audio--supposedly useful for karaoke discs. Also, the Oppo offers the ultimate DIY option: updatable firmware. Just download to a PC, burn a disc, and install the upgrade.

The jack pack offers pretty much the maximum connectivity options that you can expect from a DVD player: HDMI, component, S-Video and composite video outputs; optical and coaxial digital audio outputs--many players only offer one or the other; analog stereo outputs; and 5.1-multichannel analog audio outs. The DV-970HD is able to upconvert DVD video over its HDMI output to 720p and 1080i, in addition to 480i and 480p resolutions. Around the front, the aforementioned USB jack and four-in-one memory card reader--it accepts SD, MMC, Memory Stick, and Smart Media formats--offer the promise of enjoying digital media that's not disc-based. On our review sample, both the memory card reader and the USB port were dead, but we have requested a replacement and will update the review when we have more information.

In terms of disc compatibility, the Oppo DV-970HD is about average. It choked on most of the discs in our test suite that are marked difficult and even a couple that are marked easy. On the upside, it had no problem playing DVDs with MP3s on them, as well as DivX files burned on DVDs and CDs. The DV-970HD also provides excellent support for high-resolution audio discs, including SACD, DVD-Audio, and HDCD. Even better, it's able to send multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio over its HDMI output, assuming your receiver can handle it. Note that the Oppo's internal bass management options won't satisfy serious audiophiles, so they'll want to offload that task to a receiver, anyway.

We put the DV-970HD through the steps of Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark test and it performed very well. Resolution tests were detailed and stable, rotating lines suffered only a little distortion, and it successfully engaged 2:3 processing on the difficult "race car" test. However, it wasn't perfect--we could see some slight artifacts on a waving flag, and its noise reduction was lackluster.

We decided to put the DV-970HD head-to-head with the aforementioned $850 Denon DVD-2930CI and watched several scenes from the Serenity DVD. It was extremely difficult to pinpoint any scene where the DVD-2930CI was demonstrably better. Even on a sizeable screen such as the 50-inch Pioneer PDP-5070HD's, we felt the DV-970HD held its own.

In all, the Oppo DV-970HD delivered an experience more reminiscent of the decidedly high-end Denon DVD-2930CI than that of similarly priced players. That's a big compliment, considering the huge price differential. With its fully loaded feature-set and excellent performance, the DV-970HD is an exceptional choice for videophiles and home-theater enthusiasts who are on a budget.