This year we saw the emergence of the next and possibly last generation of optical disc-based technology for home entertainment in new Ultra HD Blu-ray players from Samsung, Philips, Panasonic and Microsoft’s Xbox One S.
All were impressive for their abilities to playback 4K Ultra HD video at a bit rate of up to 100 Mbps and pass through metadata for new high dynamic range (HDR) enhancements in the open (and mandatory) HDR10 format.
But in the final weeks of 2016, Oppo kicked the competition up several notches by delivering what we dub the Ultimate Ultra HD Blu-ray player — at least so far — in the UDP-203 ($549 from Oppo’s web site).
We call the UDP-203 the Ultimate Ultra HD Blu-ray player because in addition to handling virtually every 5-inch optical disc format needed for video and music entertainment, it also handles a huge selection of digital music formats including most Hi-Res Audio ones. More impressively, in video it is the first player to promise support for the Dolby Vision HDR format (through a forthcoming firmware update) in addition to HDR10.
Above all the Oppo UDP-203 plays most of these diverse digital formats better than any Ultra HD Blu-ray player I’ve seen yet, and I’ve seen some very good ones this year.
Read more of our review of the Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player after the jump:
Any one who has seen an Oppo Blu-ray player won’t be surprised by the physical appearance of the UDP-203. It’s virtually identical to every other Oppo player the company has produced. Not that that’s a bad thing. The UBD-203 is a full-sized component player in a familar black box accented by a substantial brushed-aluminum faceplate and an LCD readout display below the disc tray. The readout is really more than a convenience and something that is sorely missed on competitive models, like the top-selling Samsung UBD-K8500.
Other amenities on the front of the player include a USB 2.0 port with the ability to quickly connect USB thumb drives or hard-drive storage devices carrying music and video files. The port will support up to 2160p video at 60 frames per second. As with other Oppo players, a set of up/down, right/left controls are placed on the front of the unit to quickly navigate playback and on-screen menus when the remote control isn’t immediately handy.
The Oppo UDP-203 is a speedy player. The tray opens almost instantly (under 3 seconds compared to 4 seconds for the Samsung UBD-K8500) upon pressing the “open” button on the remote from a cold start.
Comparing disc-load times between the Oppo and Samsung players using an Ultra HD copy of The Revenant, (time from disc load to the appears of the disc menu ) is about equal. The Samsung player took 36 seconds while the Oppo was 39 seconds.
Everything else about the player was similarly snappy and responsive, including activation of on-screen disc menu commands.
Disc Format Support
In addition to playing Ultra HD Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs, this player handles: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, and CD-Audio discs with ease. It’s a notable capability because while Panasonic’s high-performing DMP-UB900 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player does a great job handling high-quality music, upconverted SDR and native 4K Ultra HD video (for $150 more than the UBD-203), it inexplicably leaves off the ability to playback multi-channel SACDs and DVD-Audio discs, the latter of which the company helped develop and even spearheadeded its international marketing campaign.
Okay – so DVD-Audio and multi-channel SACDs are getting harder and harder to find, but most of those audiophiles who bought into the technology still enjoy the high-resolution benefits those formats deliver. Naturally, they are going to need an on-going supply of compatible disc players. Thank you Oppo and Sony, which has also announced plans to market a similarly capable Ultra HD Blu-ray player in 2017.
Although the UDP-203 handled almost every Blu-ray, DVD and pre-recorded Ultra HD Blu-ray movie we sampled, where we found a hiccup was using a disc authored on an Ultra HD PC drive. This disc was developed to test 4K Ultra HDTV televisions by imaging specialicist Florian Friedrich. The special test pattern workflow disc played surface menus but ran into snags the further we got into the test patterns. It should be noted that this disc was authored specifically for the Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray player, model UBD-8500, which played the disc flawlessly on most televisions, although some test patterns were intended for Samsung TVs in particular.
The UDP-203’s set-up button allows for a large array of A/V adjustments and fine tuning. For example, the video output feature controls for HDMI offering: “Auto, On, Off and strip metadata” options. Other options include: Output Resolution; Custom Resolution, Color Space, Color Depth, TV Aspect Ratio, 3D Setting, DVD 24p conversion, and De-interlacing Mode, most of which are set to “on” or “auto” by default. For resolution, we used a setting of “custom” with Custom Resolution set to “UHD Auto.”
The custom resolution options are UHD Auto, UHD 24Hz, UHD 50Hz, UHD 60Hz, with similar options for 1080p, 1080i 50Hz and 60Hz; 720p 50Hz and 60Hz; 576 p and i; and 480 p and i.
There’s also a Source Direct mode under Output Resolution to output every disc at its native resolution.
The Color Space setting offers options for RGB Video Level, RGB PC Level, YCbCr 4:4:4, 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 subsampling and Color Depth has options for: Auto, 12-bit, 10-bit and 8-bit color.
Audio output settings options are similarly loaded and diverse including an option to set DT Neo:6 mode On or Off.
Although users will find no end for adjustments, the Oppo UDP-203 performed extremely well with the default settings.
When it comes to the need to support legacy music formats and expensive electronic components, I’m happy to say, Oppo gets it. Heck, they even include eight multi-channel analog outputs (7 channels and one subwoofer) on the UDP-203 so you can decode audio formats using the player’s superb decoding and pass the sound through to a legacy receiver or amp.
For similar reasons, Oppo has included two HDMI outputs on the player — one HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 version for connection directly to a TV and one HDMI 1.4 connection to link with an AV receiver that’s a couple of years old, pre-dating 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. The player also has an HDMI input which can be used to connect an outboard media streaming adapter, like a Roku or FireTV, to enable adding streaming capability to TVs with an inadequate supply of HDMI inputs. Although the UDP-203 has built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity, it doesn’t include any built-in streaming apps for services like Netflix or Vudu. The thinking is that most TVs will already have that ability built-in or it can be added easily and cheaply with a third-party media adapter offering many more app options than a typical Blu-ray player.
The Oppo’s HDMI input just makes it easier to do the latter.
In addition, the Oppo UDP-203 offers two USB 3.0 ports on the rear of the player along with optical and coaxial Toslink and S/PDIF outputs. This is a vertible boat-load of support and a rarity these days.
Finally, those with more advanced systems will appreciate the included RS232C serial port and 12V trigger input and output providing linking and control with similarly advanced components.
We also ran into occasional freeze ups when an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc movie had a few well-placed finger marks on the reflective side. This player seems to be particularly sensitive to that issue with discs of denser bit structures.
As mentioned, the UDP-203 has the ability to connect to the internet via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, but this is more to perform firmware updates and used the player’s BD-Live capabilities to access streaming apps. As we mentioned, the player has no on-board streaming services.
The remote is altogether different than the minimalist one offered with Samsung’s player. Instead of being diminutive, Oppo’s remote is long and loaded with back-lit buttons and up/down, right/left arrow key control. Although it might be a bit harder to reach all of the buttons with smaller hands, I found I could reach everything with my thumb, and didn’t find the remote uncomfortable to use at all. In fact, I welcome the ability to easily reach the diverse menus and settings functions from well-indicated icon buttons.
No one handles packaging an AV component better than Oppo. One of its signatures has been the included extras, such as a thorough and informative user manual, supplied basic high-speed HDMI cable, high-quality supply box and a canvas bag that wraps the Ultra HD Blu-ray player in place of the typical platic bag, to keep it safe from scratches, although I miss the Spears & Munsil calibration disc the company used to include with some of its early Blu-ray Disc players.
This is all very impressive, but the question at the end of the day — how it performs ? — matters most. I’m happy to report — magnificently. To begin, Oppo uses a very good 32-bit AKM AK4458VN DAC in the player to produce very authentic sounding music.
Running the UDP-203 through a legacy Denon 7.1-channel AV receiver’s lossless multi-channel analog audio inputs, music was full, rich and natural sounding, channel separation was excellent and the presence and mid-range on DTS-HD Master Audio works was well defined without being overly bright or shrill. Even CDs sound fantastic. Oppo is reportedly working on a step-up Ultra HD Blu-player that will improve upon the audio performance, but this player already sets the bar very high.
Fortunately, a few music producers and musicians still care about fidelity in multi-channel music presentations. They have found the Blu-ray format offers ample capacity to carry on with 5.1-channel lossless audio and have converted a small number of worthy music collections to Blu-ray music. I’m happy to report the UDP-203 delivers here as well.
One of the more recent Blu-ray music releases — Yes’s marvelous “Tales From Topographic Oceans” remastered in 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio surround (among others) on Blu-ray Disc is breathtakingly clear and natural sounding through this player. The Oppo UDP-203’s on-board decoding is pure and unaltered for Blu-ray music as well as for SACDs and DVD-Audio discs.
Two-channel CD playback through the player’s internal decoders is clear, wide and lively.
The Oppo player also handles a wide range of digital music files including: APE, Apple lossless, most 24-bit/96kHz files, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, DSD64/128 along with the more common WAV, MP3, WMA and OGG files. There are only a few lesser-used music formats that the player won’t support.
When a CD is inserted, the player automatically displays a blue data screen carrying album cover art (where available) and information on: disc artist, title, track, track type and channel type. Some of this is also displayed with tiny icons on the player readout screen.
The Oppo UDP-203 is equally adept at handling surround sound movie and television sound tracks. In addition to its internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, the player will pass bitstream audio output to send Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to a compatible AV receiver.
Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray sound tracks are brilliantly realistic and immersive, with excellent channel separation supporting traditional and object-based surround sound set ups. Both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound tracks are supported although Auro3D is not. (Note: we did not test for Dolby Atmos of DTS:X in this review.)
4K Video and HDR Performance
Above all, Oppo’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray player presents 4K Ultra HD video and accompanying metadata as well or better than most first-generation challengers. With CES 2017 coming in several days we are going to see a number of newcomers, but Oppo carries the distinction of being the first Ultra HD player to promise support (through a forthcoming firmware update) of the Dolby Vision HDR format in addition to HDR10.
Unfortunately, as this was written there were no Dolby Vision-supporting Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs to test, but the player is a solid performer with HDR10. More on this later.
When it arrives, Dolby Vision will bring support for dynamic metadata with on-the-fly scene-by-scene color grading in addition to the static metadata used in HDR10. The latter provides HDR image enhancement parameters on a uniform level throughout a title. It will also handle content in up to 12-bits.
As for the player’s ability to handle the dynamic metadata features of the Dolby Vision format, Jason Liao, Oppo’s product development CTO and VP, told us that “until the player is certified by Dolby to be Dolby Vision compliant, we really cannot talk in details about the upcoming Dolby Vision features other than that it is coming. Outside of the scope of the player’s features and specification, my understanding of Dolby Vision based on their publicly released white paper is that dynamic metadata is an integral part, so I doubt a player can pass the certification without supporting dynamic metadata.”
In the meantime, the Oppo player handles HDR10 extremely well. Playing the unit on a LeEco Super4 x55, colors and specular highlights seemed to pop a little more than when using the Samsung UBD-K8500. This particular television has limited peak luminance, but wider contrast range was apparent.
LED lights inside the helmets of the astronauts in The Martian were noticeably brighter than the surrounding background. Black levels were deep and rich, although the detail crushing in very black sections on the screen that I first saw with the Samsung player, remained evident with the Oppo. This is due to the limitations of the display and not the player, however.
The surround sound effects were explosive and jarring, from my traditional 5.1-channel set up, using B&W CDM speakers and a Mirage subwoofer with dual 12-inch drivers.
The Oppo UDP-203’s upconversion on Full HD Blu-ray material is excellent. The player incorporates MediaTek’s specialized 4K UHD Blu-ray decoder SoC – the quad-core OP8591 — that delivers images from HD and 4K UHD sources that are sharp and clear with rich full colors and few signs of distracting artifacts. Where we had a few issues was viewing de-interlaced 480p (SD) 24p material from DVDs. Using test patterns from the Marvell QDEO and Spears & Munsil TV set-up and evaluation discs we noticed a number of issues with cadence (judder) when panning across brick buildings, mosquito and block noise artifacts in low-light scenes and blurring around lettering and straight line graphics. Also, colors in our test DVDs of “JFK,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Red Planet” and “Temple Grandin” were characteristically flatter than on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray. We switched the player’s “DVD 24p” setting to on, which cleaned up some of these issues, but produced more noticeable film grain and background noise. Some of this is an issue with the LeEco x55 4K UHD display sample we used, although much of it is due to the greater demands 3840 x 2160 4K UHD resolution puts on the processing system. We noticed similar issues in DVD content and test patterns played on the Samsung UBD-K8500 player. These artifacts are less pronounced when played back on native 1080p and 720p displays.
Anyone with an extensive DVD library they plan on keeping might want to take this into consideration, or at least hang on to that HDTV and DVD or Blu-ray player.
Overall, my impression of the Oppo UDP-203 is that this is the best Ultra HD Blu-ray player on the market for Ultra HD, HD Blu-ray, high quality music playback and immersive movie surround sound. It is also a veritable Swiss Army knife for disc handling and digital audio/video playback support. I’m somewhat disappointed that after producing some great Blu-ray Disc players with excellent DVD up-conversion in the past, Oppo wasn’t able to clean up these DVD images a little better. Perhaps I’m spoiled by watching the spectacular images this player produces in 4K Ultra HD with HDR.
But as we pointed out, this is an issue with a few Ultra HD Blu-ray players as well, and certainly has a lot to do with the whole garbage in/garbage out conundrum — after all the player has to multiply noise and artifacts along with image data in the original SD material to fill all of the additional pixels on a 2160p screen. In the meantime, it might be time to start upgrading those favorite movies via an online streaming service, like Vudu, or by purchasing the Ultra HD version when available.
In the meantime, this is an excellently built player that should last a long time. At $549 its more expensive than either the Samsung or Philips Ultra HD Blu-ray machines (which were promoted at close to the $200 level over holidays) but it’s less expensive than the Panasonic player, which carries a $699 suggested retail, and plays more discs and formats. For the music and sound quality alone it’s worth the asking price, but the phenomenal HDR10 and native 4K Ultra HD resolution handling should make this player a classic. We expect that it will handle Dolby Vision equally well after the firmware update arrives.
The Oppo UDP-203 used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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