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Oppo DV-981HD Upconverting DVD Player

Latest Oppo Gets Into Steel Cage, Kills Siblings

We report the gory details

Francis Vale

When last we tossed the Oppo DV-971H and DV-970 into the A/V steel cage, neither came out bloody. You got to choose your own winner.  If you wanted superior video, you threw your cash at the 971.  But if audio rocked your world, then the 970 butt-headed the 971.

Now enter the new king of the low cost, high value CE cage, the $229 Oppo DV-981HD.  It scores fast, hard-hitting kicks in both audio and video, delivering one-two, rock your world blows that make trying to decide whether to buy either the $149.00 Oppo DV-970 or $200.00 Oppo DV-971, or any other sub-$1,000 player a brain dead referee call—The new DV-981 rules.

Combining such superior audio and video performance in such a low cost package makes for an astonishing performance. It renders foolish all notions of spending upwards of a grand or even more to get better A/V results. The Oppo 981 is that good.

And while awaiting the mayhem in the HD DVD Vs. Blu-ray title bout to die down, not too mention anticipating high-def DVD player prices to hit the mat, know that the Oppo 981 takes your existing DVD’s and brilliantly upconverts them to 480p, 720p, 1081, and 1080p.

The 981 also uses DCDi by Faroudja video processing technology, which implements progressive scan, film mode detection, and also features TrueLife enhancement and motion adaptive noise reduction. Video is analyzed pixel by pixel to detect the presence or absence of angled lines and edges, which, if found, are processed, producing a smooth natural looking image without visible artifacts (jaggies). It works.

But to fully realize these manifold benefits you must use the 981’s digital video output. However, the Oppo 981 offers only a HDMI output.

It's a forced march, total system upgrade for hapless and already confused consumers, because there are no high quality component (analog) video connections on the Oppo 981. And if you are thinking about simply converting its HDMI output to DVI, be aware the 981's HDMI implementation, as on the DV-970, has HDCP copy protection.

If your HDTV or projector has a DVI connector but does not support HDCP, you are shit out of luck, as nothing will appear except a blank screen. Thank the Hollywood mogul morons once again for ruining your movie day and making your entire component/DVI system obsolete. 

The 981 offers composite video and S video outputs, though, rubbing salt in your big screen wounds; as does the Oppo-supplied HDMI cable mocking you from its unopened plastic wrapper.

 

 

As some consolation, digital audio can be routed separately over either the 981’s coax or optical connections, with support for DTS, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro-Logic II and Linear PCM. The 981 also sports a built-in equalizer, channel trim and delay functions. The player can process both DVD-Audio and SACD, as if anyone really cares anymore. DivX also works.

For home movie buffs that like to burn their own opus, the 981 can play both DVD±R/RW and DVD+R DL discs. But Oppo cautions playback results will vary as who knows how badly you managed to munge the burn.

I had the chance to compare all three Oppo players, the 970, 971 and 981.  Used as a music player, the 981 managed to edge out the 970, which is a great audio player in its own right. Used as just a transport, both Oppo units were pretty comparable.  But overall, the 981 showed slightly more three dimensionality and somewhat better instrument placement.

Certainly, the $229 DV-981 can hold its own as a transport in many high-end audio rigs. Plan on spending about $3000 and more to get seriously better two-channel audio performance. Ditto for getting better surround audio.

As for video performance, the Oppo 981 kicks serious butt. The DV-971H had its day in the sun, and that’s that.  The 981-produced video was smoother and better looking than on the similarly DCDi-equipped HD-971, which is saying something. Overall, the 981 produced a stunning picture.

Even though proper display calibration plays the dominant video role, the 981 still managed to show its pedigree with colors that were notably vibrant with no bleeding, and blacks, always a tough hit, were richer and deeper than with the 971 in the loop.  Video decoding artifacts, where DVD player processing takes front and center, were totally absent. The sum result was a tremendously involving, lifelike experience, an aspect that continually impressed me while doing this review.

There is an emotional involvement while watching a movie via the 981 that's truly remarkable. This kind of imaging magic is usually only found in very expensive players costing thousands. It’s not simply a matter of better resolution. The 981’s video processing is doing such a superior job massaging pixels that your brain just rolls over gives in to the faux experience.  Suspension of belief is near total—Until your wife bursts in and starts yelling about the 981's full-on surround sound causing plaster to rain down on the book she’s reading in the other room.

The $229 DV-981HD is another hit out of the park for Oppo.  I can’t wait to see what they do with a high-def player!

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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