Oppo DV-981HD Review

Highs

  • Very high video quality; supports a ton of formats; lots of features

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 10

Lows

  • No component video ouput; poorly designed menus
The DV-981HD shows that price or brand name alone is no guarantee of quality.

Summary

Conventional wisdom says that a consumer electronic product from a “brand name” will be superior to that from a small company, So you wouldn’t expect better video or premium features to be found on Oppo Digital’s DV-981HD DVD player – which retails for $229 USD and is sold over the Internet. But as we’ll see, (with a few noticeable exceptions as to design and menu navigation) when it comes to performance the DV-981HD is right there at the top.

Features and Design

The DV-981HD is svelte and has on the front the expected Power and Eject buttons, along with Play/Pause and Stop. So using the Remote is really a necessity, and even though there are tiny buttons, they at least follow a conventional format and can be seen in a poorly lit room, since they glow-in-the-dark. The front panel LCD display is fair in size and readable from a respectable range, and the Eject button glows blue which looks cool while in use.

The disc tray is made of a bendable plastic which “gives” when you touch it – that’s good because you can’t remove the disc from the top as is the case with most players, and instead must poke it up from below. It’s a bit inconvenient for those with big hands and can also lead to smudging the disc’s playing surface until you get the hang of it. Overall, the look of the DV-981HD is attractive, yet unrefined compared to some of Japan’s finest.

Setup and Use

The connectors on the back include of the DV-981HD include HDMI, S-Video and composite out for vid-eo. Audio outputs include both optical and coaxial for Dolby Digital and DTS, along with stereo RCA outputs and more of these outputs for analog 5.1 multichannel sound (Front L/R speakers, Center, Surround L/R and subwoofer). But why Oppo chose to leave out a component video output is a head-scratcher, especially as there are still a huge number of displays out there that don’t have HDMI inputs, both large “home theater” types along with smaller sets used in dens, children’s room and the like. The only reason we can come up is perhaps the company figured that since it had HDMI why bother with component? But to be fair this player shouldn’t be confused with some $49 USD model bought at Costco for attaching to a 20” TV in the basement.

Back of the Oppo DV-980HD
Back of the Oppo DV-980HD

We attached the DV-981HD using HDMI to a Samsung HLS5679W LED rear-projection display and scaled to the video up to 1080p with audio coming out of the optical and analog ports connected to a Denon 2807 receiver.

We started by pressing the Setup button on the Remote, which gives you a row of Selections at the top, with corresponding choices appearing below. We set the player for the infamous 16:9 aspect ratio as this looks best for the majority of DVDs since they’ll be in widescreen, keep in mind though that this automatically widens standard format (4:3) images as well and doesn’t make them look very good. So don’t get lazy and change the aspect ratio when playing a full screen disc. Other choices let you set the resolution, decide how SACD and DVD-A discs will perform, conform the player to the size of the speakers being used, etc. Of course that also includes brightness and contrast control, noise reduction and other video aspects – although we find it best to keep all these at neutral and adjust at the display instead.

But we have to say that the menu system’s GUI (Graphical User Interface) leaves a lot to be desired; it’s very old-school, non-intuitive, and at times just plain ugly. This is where the Oppo shows its shortcomings because while you can muddle your way through, it’s not a fun ride. But the good news is that doesn’t affect performance in any way – and once you’ve taken care of the settings you can forget about ever returning to them (unless you must).

Ease of use

There are a number of “power user” and convenience controls that you wouldn’t have expected to see – such as a meter that displays a graphical representation of the audio signal to aid in adjusting the Soundfield and equalization (EQ) settings. Other nice touches include a “virtual keyboard” to let you more easily navigate a disc in the dark, and being able to play both music off of a disc while simultaneously viewing digital photos. And being able to update the firmware is a definite plus, with updates found on Oppo’s web site which you download and burn to CD which then is inserted into the player.

Evaluation 

The performance of this player is very good for video; you can thank the Faroudja-based DCDi video processing technology for that. We use the HQC DVD to evaluate the player’s video capabilities. The tests we use center on various aspects that affect performance. For example, “Jaggie” test #1 has a line rotating clockwise (like a second hand of a clock), and as it moves through various points of the circle, you look to see if the line loses its solidity. Another test is Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction – where you look at a roller coaster moving along to see if it is leaving a “trail” behind it as it moves or is blurring. The Oppo passes these tests with flying colors, as it does when evaluating for other things like picture detail and noise reduction.

But the real world means watching DVDs, so we’ll go to a sample disc we were sent of Time/Life’s-Warner Home Video’s The Man from Uncle box set (the entire series comes cleverly concealed inside of an attache case). It’s a good disc to use since it includes both black and white and color episodes, and being an older show we can expect there to be some grain, even though it has been newly remastered – this can highlight a player’s ability to handle contrast without giving up on detail.

Oppo DV-981HD
Image Courtesy of Oppo Digital

The Oppo handles the video impressively: black and white is free of color bursts and there’s good detail, while the color (a bit muted and so needing some tweaking) looks realistic and clean. As to grain, fairly evident in both black-and-white and color, it doesn’t exhibit any smudginess to cause a softening of the image.

Of course newer DVDs are also very presentable: having a chance to watch Oliver Stone’s Alexander Revisited – The Final Cut on a player that handles contrast well and resolves the image cleanly truly adds to the enjoyment – especially in battle scenes that come across razor sharp (bad pun, we know).

We also played some DivX video files off of a home-brewed disc without incident, and overall audio quality sounds fine whether playing a movie soundtrack or a CD or SACD (of course what is being heard being more a function of the amp and speakers).

Conclusions 

The DV-981HD shows that price or brand name alone is no guarantee of quality. And while the lack of a component output is a bit restrictive and it could clearly benefit from an improved graphical interface, the way this Oppo DVD player displays video is something that you will want to see for yourself.

Pros

• High quality video image and upconversion processing
• Many convenience features
• Plays wide range of audio and video formats

Cons

• No Component output
• Poorly designed menus

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