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.
You're going to find just about every connection you could want on the DV-983H's back panel. The main connection is the HDMI output, which is capable of upconverting video to 1080p and carrying multichannel audio signals. For analog video there is a component-video output (limited to 480p, as usual), an S-Video output and a composite-video output. On the audio side, there are both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, plus 7.1 multichannel analog outputs. For advanced remote control schemes, there is an IR input and output, plus an RS-232 port for the custom-installer crowd. Lastly, there's a USB port around back, which can handle media files such as DivX and MP3s. One minor quibble is that the USB port is located on the rear panel, whereas we preferred the front panel location found on the DV-980H.
Although the DV-983H touts its "HD upconversion," that doesn't mean it can play either of the high-definition disc formats, HD DVD and Blu-ray. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, upscaling generally only yields relatively minor increases in picture quality, and the degree of those increases depends on your HDTV. Every HDTV already has upscaling processing built in, so the improvement in quality can occur only if the DVD player does a better job than your TV.
As we've come to expect from Oppo, the image quality of the DV-983H is excellent for a standard-definition player. We kicked off our image quality testing with Silicon Image's HQV test suite with the DV-983H in 1080p mode. The initial resolution test was rock solid, with the DV-983H displaying the full resolution of DVDs with absolutely none of the image instability that we often see on this test. The next two jaggies tests were also impressive, with almost no jaggies showing up on a rotating white line and solid performance on three pivoting lines. The DV-983H didn't skip a beat on the difficult 2:3 pull-down test, snapping into film mode in an instant. It also did a solid job with scrolling text, although we saw a little bit of stuttering on horizontal-CNN-style scrolling. Overall, the DV-983H's performance on the test material is excellent.
We switched over to actual program material, and the DV-983H backed up its performance on the test patterns. The introduction of Star Trek: Insurrection is a torture test for 2:3 pull-down that the DV-983H passed with flying colors, handling the opening sequence as well as any other player we've tested. We switched over to Seabiscuit and looked at the difficult opening sequence, comprised of panning shots over black-and-white photographs. We also took a long look at Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and were reminded that even in a high-def world, DVDs can look pretty good.
In case you're wondering, we did a side-by-side comparison of the DV-983H with the same movie on Blu-ray, and upconverted DVD--no matter how well done--does not compare with the image quality of Blu-ray. The superior resolution and colors of Pirates on Blu-ray were easily noticeable in almost every scene, when watching on a 50-inch screen from about 6 feet away. The DV-983H will get the most out of your existing standard DVD collection, but for the ultimate home theater image quality, you have to go Blu.
We also put the DV-983H up against the DV-981HD, which costs $229. Watching Seabiscuit again, and switching between the two players, we could notice subtle differences. The DV-981HD had just a few minor jaggies in the background that we didn't see on the DV-983H, and as the camera panned some of the old black-and-white photos, the DV-983H looked just a smidgen smoother. You'll have to have a pretty sharp eye for details to see differences such as this--and we may even miss them if we're caught up in a movie--but the DV-983H definitely gets our nod for image quality.
As we said before, how much better the DV-983H looks than a less-expensive DVD player largely depends on your TV. If you've dished out a lot of money on a Sony KDL-46XBR4, it already has excellent video processing built-in and you're not likely to see a dramatic difference. However, if your HDTV's processing is on the low-end of the scale, the difference is noticeable--whether it's worth the extra money depends on how important image quality is to you.