I have a large DVD collection. I am not yet all that excited about investing in Blu-ray where I get to pay twice as much for each new title. Although many HD televisions perform certain image upconvert functions (to improve the way standard TV and DVD images appear on the higher-resolution HD display), they don’t necessarily perform that function very well. Enter the Oppo DV-981HD DVD Player. The 981HD was introduced a while back with some state of the art features for the time at a moderate price. I recently got the opportunity to work with this player and put it through some paces. Read on to see how it worked out for me.
The 981HD is capable of upconverting your standard DVD image to a resolution of 1080p. It is capable of playing not only DVDs (DVD+/-R/RW, DVD+R DL) and CDs (CD-R/RW), but also DVD-Audio, SACD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, and DivX discs. I limited my evaluation primarily to DVDs.
The player offers a wide selection of connections options including HDMI for connecting to your HDTV and S-Video for your standard TV, as well as the regular collection RCA jacks found on most standard player. Oppo also offers more connection on its higher end 983H model including USB 2.0 connectivity.
I want to take a moment and point out that the Oppo is wonderfully packaged and wrapped. It also came with a complete set of cables, including an HDMI cable – something that is often omitted from HDTV and player packages. I appreciate the fact that Oppo does not make me go out and buy the basic cables separately!
One thing you notice right away is that the title screens of movies appear to be a lot smoother than on a regular DVD player. To investigate this player, I did a few things that I think come into play when you consider how well the DVD player works. First of all I tried a variety of movies, including ones that may have given me some grief on other players. I watched a movie with a number of dark passages to see how the picture appeared in low-contrast situations. I watched an animated feature (Disney’s “Meet the Robinsons”) to see how smooth the animated images appeared. I watched an action flick to see how well high speed scenes rendered and whether or not there was a lot of artifacting (odd image anomalies). I also did a lot of freeze-framing and stepping forward and back to see how well frozen images appeared and how well the stepping algorithms worked.
In general, discs played well. They started fairly quickly with minimal fuss and bother. I did notice, however, that this player seemed to be a little more sensitive to dust, dirt, or scratches on the disc than other players I’ve worked with. There were a couple of movies that I own that play acceptably in other players that would cause this player to freeze up. Keep in mind, these movies had dirt or scratches on them – they weren’t flawless. Clean discs gave me no problem, but how many of you have all of your discs perfectly clean with no marks or smudges on them?
I watched “Anacondas” which has a long set of scenes that take place in a cave with low lighting/blue lighting. These low contrast scenes rendered much better than I thought they would. They appeared better than any standard DVD player I’ve ever used – period. They were clear and crisp looking. Very nice!
My animated selection (“Meet the Robinsons”) was also very nicely rendered. I didn’t notice any artifacts and jaggies were rarely noticeable. The upconvert algorithms again did an excellent job of making the image quite attractive on my HD screen.
The action flick (still using “Anacondas”), again, showed very little artifacting or streaking, even in high-speed sequences. The processing power of the player appears to be more than sufficient to keep up with quickly changing images. This is a nice change from the way my standard DVD player appears on the HD television.
On all the movies I watched, I’d periodically pause the image and play with the stepping functions. Again – images were sharp and clear, even throughout multiple steps.
I did have a couple of small concerns, however. First, I already mentioned the sensitivity the player had to dirty discs. This was pretty much resolved by cleaning up the disc, but I had at least one disc that had small scratches, and this player ocupldn’t play the disc without freezes, but I have another player that could.
Another complaint I had was the included remote control. Although full-featured, it wasn’t very well set up or organized. I had to look closely at it every time I used it to make sure I was pressing the right button. The labeling was very small and functions could have been organized in a way that was a little more intuitive. For example, the forward/back controls are all toward the left side of the remote. Looking for a “forward” button in the middle to left side of the device isn’t particularly obvious. A universal remote would certainly solve the problem, but I would have liked a little more attention to detail on the remote.
Conclusions: Overall, I really liked this player. It has a lot of features and does a wonderful job of up-converting the DVD image so that it looks its best on your HD television. The problems I encountered were minor and generally avoidable. If you’re holding onto a large DVD collection and aren’t quite ready to make the costly leap to Blu-ray, then the Oppo DV-981HD is definitely worth a look.
What I liked: The image quality produced by this player is absolutely wonderful, including still frames, stepped frames, and high-speed action. The packaging and inclusions are excellent.
What Needs Improvement: The sensitivity of the reading mechanism (fails to read slightly dirty discs that play in other players), and the cluttered/confusing remote control.
Where to Buy: This player is available from a variety of retailers including the Oppo Digital website and Amazon.com
Price: The Oppo DV-981HD has a retail price of $229 USD and that’s the price I generally found on the net. The budget 980H was available for $169, and the top-of-the-line 983H was available for $399.