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Another bulletproof Oppo
on October 26, 2012
"$500 for a Blu-ray player?" my postal carrier asked as he delivered my Oppo BDP-103 earlier this month. But this is not your run-of-the-mill Blu-ray player, I said. Later, I invited him in to listen and watch. "Oh," he said.
As I mentioned in my BDP-93 review, Oppo has created quite a name for itself with their Blu-ray players for home theater devotees. Priced between extraordinarily high end equipment and players that you can buy at warehouse clubs, the Oppo units have wowed users by truly being worth the extra dollars while providing a high-end experience. So here we have Oppo's brand new BDP-103. We're already several firmware iterations beyond the originally shipping version and I haven't yet run into anything distressing. I only chuckled about the green line that appeared on the left side of the screen saver screen, which I haven't noticed lately and was probably fixed in the last firmware release. As I write this, I'm listening to a "radio" station I created with Pandora Internet Radio, streaming through the Oppo and into the home theater, and while audio dynamics might not be equivalent of an uncompressed playback, it's certainly good enough that it has confused several listeners so far. But I get ahead of myself...
Again, Oppo has delivered a well packaged machine, this time with a somewhat better user interface for the front panel, particularly when using it in a dark room, thanks to a better ability to feel for the on/off and open buttons. The remote has been ever-so-slightly improved as well, particularly in terms of its handling of the internal lighting and component response time, which occasionally was lacking in the BDP-93.
The interface for user settings is among the best I've encountered, with a GUI that rivals those from Apple. The user manual is superb - well-written with clear illustrations. You'll find that given the fine interface, you rarely need to refer to the manual, but then again the complexity of this device is extraordinarily high by virtue of all it can do so there will be times when you want an excellent and handy printed manual.
Play a CD, a DVD, a SACD, or a Blu-ray disc and you'll find audio and video characteristics that rival those from components costing four to five times as much as the Oppo. Loading is fast; you won't be spending significant time watching animated "loading" icons. Response to input from the remote is rapid. The sound is glorious. The picture is impressive. All will be right up to the capabilities of your TV and your speakers.
Since I'm using the Oppo BDP-103 with a 55" Sony LCD panel that is not 3D compatible, I haven't had the chance to check out the upgraded 2D-to-3D up-conversion. 4K Video upscaling will also have to await the brand new equipment that can handle such output. That said, running with a Marantz AV7005, Sunfire 400wpc amp, and Martin-Logan reQuests, I am incredibly impressed with the BDP-103. Audio, Video, Blu-Ray, Netflix, Pandora, SACD, DVD-A, CD's with mp3's (or FLAC files, or nearly any other format you can imagine), USB inputs, HDMI throughput as well as output, automatic firmware upgrades via wifi or ethernet, and the list just goes on and on. About the only thing it can't do that I wish it could is stream directly from Amazon. I could expand upon each of these capabilities further: for example, if you choose to run the HDMI output from your cable box into the Oppo, have the Oppo perform the analog audio conversion, and then take the analog audio from there and bring it to your processor, you can do it. If you'd like to place an enormous amount of music on a USB storage source, then plug that in and play it, you can do that too. And naturally, there are little bonuses such as the Oppo's display (on the TV screen) of the artist/title information for each track being played from a CD.
Overall, you'll quickly find this to be a flexible and intuitive component well worth the extra dollars over the competition. Let me say a word about customer service. Last year, I received a newly released Bluray movie from Netflix - and by newly released, I mean it had been released that same day. Inserting it into the BDP-93 resulted in the unit freezing up and needing to be turned off, then back on again to eject the disc. Within 24 hours, Oppo both heard about the problem with this newly released movie AND released new firmware that allowed the -93 to work with it. From time to time with a Sony blu-ray player, I've run into the same circumstance; generally it takes a month or two, if then, for a new firmware release to come out - and then there is a question as to how to install it.
If your plan is NOT to use the BDP-103's HDMI output but rather to utilize on-board converters, you might want to wait for the soon-to-be-released BDP-105 ($1200) which will have some improvements in the analog audio output section. And by all means, if you're in this category, go to the Oppo website to read about the differences as you may find that the BDP-103's internal handling is perfectly sufficient for your particular installation. Finally, there is an excellent forum for discussion of both the -103 and -105 at avsforum. Search for "BDP-103 Owner" and you'll find it.
Disclaimer: I don't usually write overly glowing reviews, particularly about audio components, though I did about the BDP-93. I don't work for Oppo. I just happen to love their products, their customer service, and their approach to music and home theater. You can tell when the creators truly care about the product they are releasing, and the BDP-103 represents another mark in a line of impressively designed and constructed AV components. As usual, I'll keep updating this review as time passes.
Addendum 1/23/13 - Oppo has posted version 1.6 of the user guide on their website. They also note that there are now apps for both Android and Apple iOS devices allowing the BDP-93 and all newer models (including this one) to be controlled remotely. This is useful in case you're in a different room from the player (which is on your home network and can therefore be reached remotely from your iPhone/iPad/etc.)