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Oppo UDP-203 review: For serious videophiles only

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For twelve or so years Oppo has built up an enviable reputation for making reference-level disc players, including DVD and Blu-ray models that have earned our highest marks at CNET. The four-year-old Oppo BDP-105 is still our reference player for testing home theater equipment.

oppo-udp-203
7.5

Oppo UDP-203

The Good

The Oppo UDP-203 is a well-built, premium 4K Blu-ray player and the first to support Dolby Vision disc playback. Connectivity is superb, with a full 7.1 analog output and even an HDMI input for connecting streaming players. Video and audio quality is excellent.

The Bad

The player is expensive and defiantly free of built-in streaming features. Picture performance isn't readily distinguishable from players at half the price.

The Bottom Line

The Oppo UDP-203 is an excellent high-end 4K Blu-ray disc player, but image quality improvements over cheaper players are tough to spot.

The times are changing though, and streaming is engulfing the need for physical media. So how does Oppo respond? With a steadfastly "physical" 4K Blu-ray player, the UDP-203. No streaming, no extraneous frippery. Just you and your local content. 

If you're a disc enthusiast the choice will be music to your ears, particularly as the Oppo supports most disc-based standards including Dolby Vision and even 3D (remember that?). The player also sports onboard digital-to-audio-converters and 7.1 analog audio outputs for additional flexibility.

If you're an Oppo fan, know that this player maintains the high standard the brand has earned over time and it's just a lot of fun to use. On the other hand, competitors are able to offer similar disc performance for half the price. For anyone who doesn't need to pay for "the best" you might be better off with a Sony UBP-X800 or Samsung K8500.

The Oppo UDP-203 is available for $550, £649, and AU$949.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Ever since Oppo's first Blu-ray player in 2009, the BDP-83, the company has cultivated a readily identifiable look for its machines. While competitors opted for ever-slimmer chassis, Oppo has maintained its output of large rectangular boxes. Sony and Samsung have changed tack with some very stylish players in the past year, but the substantial Oppo UDP-203 still manages to ooze quality in a way those others don't. It's built like a velvet battering ram.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The front of the player is a big 'ol slab of brushed aluminum which is inset with a Southern Cross of playback controls and a blue LED display. There is also a USB port for connecting external drives and a disc tray of course. It's a fairly standard width at 17 inches and it's a little over three inches tall.

oppo-udp-203
Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote is the standard Oppo remote we've seen before. Yes it is loaded with buttons, but it's reassuringly large, and actually fun to use. When used in conjunction with the player's friendly menu system it's an experience that's quintessentially Oppo.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The user interface is the best Oppo has produced yet, and this is no doubt due to the lack of streaming features. The wallpaper is a cool blue and there are stock photos accompanying each option. It's a lovely change from the austere black of previous Oppo menus.

Features

Say you're dropping $550 on a new 4K Blu-ray player, what kind of features would you be looking for? If you said "Netflix," you're going to be sorely disappointed, but I actually applaud Oppo's decision to ditch apps. Streaming apps on a Blu-ray player or smart TV almost never get the latest revisions, and by contrast a Roku box is crazy cheap and regularly updated. 

If you want to stream via the Oppo you can plug one of those boxes or sticks into its novel HDMI input. The company says "This approach affords users the flexibility to choose from a wide range of streaming devices and easily upgrade as streaming technologies evolve, while still taking advantage of the UDP-203's audio and video processing capabilities."

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Oppo concentrates on the media you keep in your house -- whether this is silver-disc-based, on a USB key or even a local network drive.  As a 4K disc player the Oppo has support for most of the standards you would expect: High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Color Gamut, plus an HDR converter for standard televisions. You get allowances for color spaces such as BT.2020 as well as standards such as HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. Almost the only thing that isn't supported yet is Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG) and Samsung's HDR10+, but there's no need to worry about those right now.

Still carrying your music collection around on a USB disk? The Oppo supports AIFF, WAV, ALAC, APE, DSD and FLAC. The player also comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi or gigabit Ethernet for playing back audio and video files on a NAS or networked computer.

While 3D support is quickly disappearing from TVs and Blu-ray players alike, the UDP-203 is doing its best to keep the format alive by including it too. It's weird to think that this feature -- so hot a few years ago -- is now considered "legacy", especially when new 3D Blu-rays are still being released.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity is one of the player's strongest suits and maybe it's even enough to convince people to pay the difference over a "standard" player. In addition to the HDMI input you get two HDMI outputs (one HDMI 2.0 and one 1.4 audio for legacy receivers), plus 7.1 channels of analog audio in addition coaxial and optical digital. Theres also three USB ports for connecting external disks or powering the aforementioned HDMI streaming dongles.  

Video performance

We've said for many years that 1080p Blu-ray players are now at the point where performance is almost irrelevant -- most models are able to replay discs to a very high standard. From what we've seen, the same is true with the current 4K players. Even though the medium pumps out four times as many pixels and throws in HDR and extended color palettes, the models we have tested so far, including the Xbox One S, have been universally excellent at playing back 4K Blu-rays. 

We started with standard 1080p Blu-ray test discs, however, and the Oppo was excellent. It ate the HQV 2.0 Blu-ray for lunch. Most of the benchmarks involve jaggie reduction or matching the correct video cadence, and for these the Oppo did very well. For example, the second test involves a wide clock dial that sweeps over a fine grid. The Oppo completed it better than any other player we have ever seen, with minimal blurring on the sweeping edge. 

Where the Oppo fell down on this disc, though, was with a surprising test that not many players fail. On the horizontal scrolling test which offers different cadences for the text and film we were surprised to see the text become jerky and and broken.  This is not something you'll experience often, and is only important if you watch lots of subtitled video-based content on disc, and this may be patched in a future update anyway.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The player managed to pass our real world 1080p test discs -- the Nine Inch Nails concert film and Mission Impossible III -- without any incident. Likewise, when playing DVD content the player offered an excellently smooth performance with the opening sequence of Star Trek Insurrection. There was a distinct lack of jaggies or "chugginess" as the camera pans over the houses of the utopian village.

When it comes to playing back 4K Blu-rays it's still a bit of a WIld West out there, though. While the format is now 12 months old there are still competing standards (with Dolby Vision the latest) and a lack of standardized test discs. As a result we are still nailing down our testing methodology, but we watched as much content as we could on the Oppo UDP-203, including the excellent Planet Earth II disc.

We used the first episode "Islands" to see if we could coax out differences in color or HDR. We tested with two very similar TVs -- the Sony XBR-A1E and the LG OLED65E7P -- and swapped players between them to eliminate the differences in the panels. 

The episode tracks a three-toed sloth as it navigates the waters off the coast of Panama, both players performed almost identically to each other with colors looking lush and verdant, from the greens of the jungle to the cyans of the tropical waters. The only differences we saw were when we deliberately turned off HDR on the LG panel which lead to a much less vivid performance. 

Likewise both players dealt with the moody palettes of both Arrival and John Wick 2 with the latter bursting with neon highlights when the scene called for it. The Martian wasn't giving up its secrets either, with both players picking out the highlights as the sun hits the reflectors (21:56) and demonstrating a lack of banding in the dust-filled sky above. If there is a difference with 4K performance between the Xbox and the Oppo during standard 4K (and HDR), it's something we have yet to see.

This is not the case with all HDR though -- putting one of the only Dolby Vision discs available now (Despicable Me 2) in both players showed an immediate disparity. While a non-Dolby Vision player such as the Xbox One S is supposed to render the content correctly in HDR10, the Xbox overexposed the snow-filled opening, sapping it of color and contrast.  We're guessing Microsoft will patch that issue once more Dolby Vision discs hit the market. 

Meanwhile the Oppo correctly rendered the scene with the colors and HDR highlights, and indicators on the LG TV proved that it was indeed in Dolby Vision. We'll wait until more discs are released to render judgement as to whether that format improves on the image quality of existing HDR10 discs.

We next tried plugging a Chromecast Ultra and a Roku Express into its HDMI port, and both worked fine. One thing to be aware of is that you can't use your Oppo remote to control the unit -- you'll still need your Roku remote or smartphone app.

The BDP-203's operating speed is squarely middle-of-the-road. The Samsung player is still the fastest while the Oppo is about on a par with an Xbox One S when it comes to loading times. It loaded Mission Impossible III from on in a decent 14.81 seconds and took a leisurely 39.3 seconds to load the Batman V Superman 4K Blu-ray. On the last test the only thing we've seen slower is the Sony X800.

Audio performance

Given that the Oppo is one of the only 4K players with an analog audio output we were keen to test how good it actually sounded. First impressions were good. We compared the analog output versus the onboard DAC of the high-end Rotel RAP-1580 receiver. We found the Oppo had better zip with the propulsive Get Lucky by Daft Punk whereas the Rotel seemed a little soft. Pharell's vocals seemed veiled on the Rotel where they were front and center in the Oppos's hands. But as we listened further we found we liked the more relaxed sound of the Rotel as the Oppo made things a little tiring -- particularly the hi-hats.

But that's a pie-in-the-sky processor. How does it compare to a receiver like the Sony STR-DN1080 which is the same price? Compared to the Oppo the Sony also had a more relaxed sound, though not as refined as the Rotel was. The strident chorus on Mitski's "Your Best American Girl" sounded too sibilant and grainy through the Oppo, and weren't that mnuch better on the Sony. Where the Oppo excelled was ion the amount of detail it loaned the track- there was more "air" particularly in the opening moments where it's just a shaky vocal and a sketetal guitar.

Is it a replacement for a model such as the BDP-105 or newer UDP-205 with their analog outputs? No, these models sport an even better DAC and one listen of Mitski on both the 105 and 203 demonstrated the dominance of the 105's Sabre DAC. If you're an audiophile and already paying $500 why not just go nuts on the $1300 UDP-205?

Should you buy it?

If you're an Oppo fan and you've managed to make it this far, there is nothing the player does wrong. The UDP-203 upholds the company's tradition of well-built, excellent-performing machines. What the Oppo does is cater to the videophile, the person who wants to know that their disc collection will be well-treated. It's a player with a whole slew of connectivity and support for a wide array of standards.

We hate to insert a caveat here but... the UDP-203 should be cheaper. For the non-videophile, the people who want to play the occasional 4K Blu-ray, it's not the Oppo but the Xbox One S which makes the most financial sense. It offers the most features and virtually indistinguishable image quality. 

If you're uncomfortable about using a gaming machine as your main player then there are still some good options. While the Samsung UBD-K8500 doesn't support Dolby Vision it's the only mark against that player's name. The Samsung is faster than the Oppo, offers similar image quality, and includes many more features -- and the clincher it's available for half the price.

oppo-udp-203
7.5

Oppo UDP-203

Score Breakdown

Design 10Ecosystem 7Features 6Performance 9Value 7