When we reviewed Oppo's last DVD player, the DV-980H, we summarized our feelings in the last line of the introduction: "The DV-980H is a top-notch DVD player with excellent enthusiast-friendly features and performance, but with the falling price of HD DVD units, we have a feeling it may be the last high-end DVD player we can recommend." Well, HD DVD is dead, and Oppo clearly thinks we called for the end of high-end DVD players a bit too soon, as the company has released what it calls its final DVD player, the Oppo DV-983H. And it features an unapologetic high-end price tag of $400.
The Oppo DV-983H has all the charm of its previous models, plus it sports outstanding image quality, thanks to a pair of ABT video-processing chips. Is it worth $400? For the vast majority of people, the answer is no, as Oppo's other offerings--the DV-980H and the DV-981HD--offer almost all the same features and most of the performance for a fraction of the price. Additionally, anyone who is serious about image quality would be smart to pick up a Sony PlayStation 3, which offers much better image quality on Blu-ray discs and "good enough" upconversion of standard DVDs. If you're an absolute stickler about image quality, have a large library of DVDs, and can also afford a separate Blu-ray player, the DV-983H is the last disc player you'll need to ensure excellent playback of all your legacy video and audio discs. But anyone on a budget that can live with good (but not great) DVD upconversion, will get more bang for their buck with the PlayStation 3 or a cheaper Oppo model.
The design of the DV-983H will be familiar to Oppo fans, as it shares the all-black look of the DV-980H and DV-981HD. It measures 16.875 by 10.5 by 2.125 inches, which isn't as trim as some of the slimline DVD players we've seen, but its solid build quality also makes us think it will last a bit longer. On the front face plate, there's a power button on the far left, accented by a blue LED, and further right there's an additional blue LED indicating which resolution the DV-983H is outputting (1080p, 720p, and so forth). Moving rightward is the disc tray, followed by the open/close button. We've criticized previous Oppo players for having a flimsy disc tray, but the DV-983H's tray feels more solid. Further to the right is an LED display, which is a little on the small side, and on the far right are three buttons: an HDMI button that toggles the HDMI output on and off, plus Play and Stop. The LED display can be dimmed or turned off via the setup menu, but you'll have to cover up the status LEDs with tape to eliminate all the light sources.
The remote hasn't changed from previous Oppo designs, which is a shame because it's one area that could definitely use improvement. The first thing you'll notice is that there are far too many similarly sized buttons--bad news when you're trying to navigate by feel in a darkened home theater. Oppo's answer is glow-in-the-dark buttons, which aren't quite as good as truly backlit buttons, but at least they don't drain your batteries. And while the glowing buttons work fine for major functions such as play and chapter skips, they're not good for less prominent ones that don't have their functions written on the buttons themselves. The keys also didn't feel quite as responsive as previous Oppo remotes we've used--a few times we'd hit a button and the unit didn't respond. Perhaps Oppo figures most of their owners will use the DV-983H with a universal remote, but we'd still like to see a better included clicker for $400.
The DV-983H's main purpose is to play back DVDs, but it's also capable of playing the two niche high-resolution audio formats, SACD and DVD-Audio. Unlike most other SACD and DVD-Audio players, the DV-980H is capable of sending the multichannel audio over the HDMI connection to compatible receivers, so you don't need to make an analog connection to take advantage of the full resolution of these formats. Unlike the DV-980H, it cannot send the encoded DSD stream to receivers with onboard DSD decoding, but it will send a normal PCM signal. It's also able to play numerous file formats (MP3, WMA, and DivX) burned onto DVDs and CDs, or from a thumbdrive connected to the Oppo's USB 2.0 port. We had no problem playing a few 175MB DivX movie files off a thumbdrive.
We were pleased with the way the DV-983H handled older nonanamorphic wide-screen discs. Some older HDTVs, such as the HP LC3760N and the Philips 42PF9831D, do not have aspect-ratio control when fed sources in a high-def resolution, so it's nice to have the upscaling DVD player handle it. This is not an issue for most high-quality DVDs, which are anamorphic, but nonanamorphic wide-screen discs will look distorted via on many player/TV combinations that lack proper aspect-ratio control. To correct for this, engage the 16:9 Wide/Auto under TV Display on the Oppo's General Setup screen. The player will automatically detect nonanamorphic discs, squeeze them into the proper aspect ratio and zoom the appropriate amount to fill the screen. You're also able to zoom other material to fill the screen, eliminate black bars, or magnify a section of the image.
Fans of foreign films will also be delighted by the DV-983H's excellent handling of PAL-encoded discs. Even better, you can skirt DVD's annoying region coding by entering a simple remote code and making the DV-983H region-free (see the Tips and Tricks section for more info). It worked great for us, as we had no problem watching our Region 2, PAL-encoded version of The Business, and the video quality--although not quite as sharp as an NTSC DVD--was still pretty good.