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If you were to ask someone if £155 was a reasonable sum of money for a DVD player, they would probably say no. But there are many reasons to spend more on a DVD player than that £30 job from Sainsbury's, not least because modern, flat panel TVs really need a good quality source -- ideally one with HDMI out -- to make the most of a DVD picture.
Of course, with Blu-ray players falling in price all the time and many of them capable of upscaling as well, the job of justifying spending money on a simple DVD player becomes harder. But the Oppo 980H isn't a simple player -- far from it. It has some very advanced features, many of which aren't yet available on Blu-ray players.
In Europe, Oppo DVD players are supplied by opposhop.com, and are fitted with a Scart socket, which you wouldn't get if you imported one from the US.
You can't fault much about the Oppo players. They all look slightly different, but there is a build quality and sturdiness to them that really is very pleasing. The cases are made out of proper, tough metal with a nice weight to it.
At the back of the player there are quite an impressive number of connections. There's the obvious Scart output and HDMI, optical and coaxial digital audio output, as well as 7.1 analogue audio outputs, which are RCA style connections. For analogue fans, there's a component output provided too.
The included HDMI cable is impressive. It's rare to get an included cable with Blu-ray players -- you don't even get one with the PS3 -- so not only are we pleased to see one included here, but we're also thrilled that it's reliable.
As for the remote control, it isn't the most sophisticated thing we've ever seen, though the buttons are logically placed and the glow-in-the-dark effect helps with movie viewing in a darkened room.
Let's be honest; DVD region coding is as unwelcome as a wet Labrador in a sofa showroom. No one ever asked for it, and it only serves the needs of Hollywood movie studios. It's an archaic and restrictive system that does nothing but cause consumers pain and we're pleased to see the Oppo ignores it completely. Frankly, this alone puts it ahead of all the Blu-ray players on the market -- none of which play DVDs from everywhere in the world, and all of which introduce yet another region coding system for HD content.
We love the inclusion of analogue 7.1 audio outputs, although it's fair to say that 7.1 on a DVD player is overkill. Movies don't generally have 8 channel audio, though you will sometimes find 7 channel soundtracks. If you're looking for DVDs with more audio tracks, keep an eye out for Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES logos, as those both support more channels, but only DTS can boast discrete 6.1 surround sound.
Like many DVD players, the Oppo supports MPEG-4 playback in the form of DivX and XviD encoded video. You can also watch a slideshow of images or listen to MP3s from a USB stick. We're actually very impressed by how the Oppo handles itself -- content downloaded from the Internet worked a treat, and the quality was very good, though this will depend on the source file as you might imagine.
It's pleasing that Oppo supports SACD and DVD-A, which means if you have a high definition audio collection on either format, this machine will play them back. Obviously HD audio is a bit of a niche thing, but it does have its supporters. Having both analogue and digital outputs on this player will give audiophiles a choice of how they send their high quality sound to their choice of amplifier too, which can only be a good thing.
We'll say straight off that we love the Oppo. Pictures from all DVDs look really good, with a truly wonderful colour balance, lack of noise and plenty of detail. We tested a number of discs, recorded at different bit rates, and were pleased with the picture on our LCD TV.
Our R1 copy of Mallrats, the classic Kevin Smith movie, looked sharp and clear, although it's quite obvious that this movie was made on a shoestring budget from the film stock used. But nonetheless it still looked great coming out of the Oppo.
By far the best example of material we tested was Jurassic Park, with bright bold greens and a good lack of undesirable picture distortion, and even less MPEG noise than the Toshiba XD-E500 we tested recently. We also found our trusty X-Men disc had its usual vibrancy. We did notice that the 980H had trouble loading the DVD menu, but this is a common problem with the X-Men disc -- it seems to have been authored badly.
We took some content encoded in XviD and a couple of MP3s and played them back from a USB stick. Of course, the player can also read these files from a CD or DVD, but the convience of USB makes it quite appealing. Quality was great on the video, and our MP3s sounded particularly good through our Onkyo 2.1 system. The user interface for playing these files isn't the most beautiful we've ever seen, though. Like the rest of the menus, it looks like it's just stepped out of the 80s, but it does the job and video files load quickly and start playing with virtually no delay.
One of the very few disappointments is the menu system. It's functional but the menus just don't have the same build quality as the physical unit. Fonts have aliased edges, too, which makes them look like they were generated by a Commodore 64.
Although this player is expensive by Sainsbury's standards, it's far from outrageous and compared to some of the more expensive high-end players, it's actually great value. Sure, this isn't for everyone, and Oppo doesn't pretend it is. Instead, what it does is fill the need for people who love their DVD collections and want to enjoy them in high quality on their expensive TVs.
In competition with this machine is the Toshiba XD-E500, which we reviewed a few weeks ago, and players from Denon. We think the Oppo beats both in style and picture quality, and, because it's so well made and easy to use, it's the way to go if you're not sure about Blu-ray.
Edited by Marian Smith