We've had to wait two years for Oppo to launch a new Blu-ray player. For some home cinema fans, that's at least 12 months too long – the brand has earned a reputation for unleashing decks (going back to the days of DVD) that mix high performance with advanced features and show the mass market global giants how it should be done.

It's now unveiled its third-generation Blu-ray player, the BDP-103EU, and Oppo-hedz will be hoping it can continue that tradition. And I can reassure it most certainly has. This £500 disc-spinner is the current state-of-the-art and worth every penny.

A warm welcome

Buyers of the Oppo will know they're onto a good thing as soon as they open the box. The packaging is exemplary and the deck itself is safely wrapped in a carry-bag, which Oppo exhorts you to reuse as a shopping bag to save the environment. Er, okay. Beyond the player, other goodies include a supplied HDMI cable, a USB extension lead (quite handy actually) and a Wi-Fi dongle. I prefer to have Wi-Fi built-in, of course, but a gratis dongle is the next best thing. Nor is hooking it up too much of a pain, as the BDP-103EU offers a trio of USB inputs – you can stick the adaptor in one of the rear pair and forget about it.

Other connections run to twin HDMI outputs and a pair of HDMI inputs (more on these later). Coaxial and optical digital audio inputs are provided, as are 7.1 analogue phonos, but note there are no analogue video outs at all. The Oppo is a child of the digital era.

In terms of styling the BDP-103EU shares a resemblance to the BDP-93EU. It cuts a dark, menacing dash on your rack. Build quality seems excellent - I applauded the Pioneer BDP-LX55 for its decent construction but this is the real deal. The Oppo feels solid enough to stop a tank, weighing 4.9kg.

The supplied remote is well-organised and backlit and even the front display has its uses, going as far as letting you know if a firmware update has become available.

Once laced up to your AVR (via a single HDMI in my case, but you can use the twin outs to either split audio and video delivery or feed two displays simultaneously), you're greeted by the home page. This offers a two-tier run of coloured, hi-res icons. Browsing options and drilling down into menus is aided by the responsive remote. In all, it's a slick environment that never frustrates.

As a media streamer, the Oppo provides a solid experience, working as both a player and renderer and providing healthy file support, including WMA, MP3 and FLAC. The presentation of music tracks includes artwork where available - with playback of your CDs, too, thanks to Gracenote access. The menus here are more utilitarian than elsewhere, though; download divas may still prefer their dedicated Western Digital or A.C. Ryan player.

Where the Oppo can't compete with decks from the major AV brands is in its IPTV provision - the home page features logos for Vudu, Pandora and Film Fresh, yet none of these are available to UK users. Only Netflix, Picasa and YouTube can be delved into. But this isn't a deal-breaker, and the Oppo does have something else up its sleeve - compatibility with the Roku Streaming Stick. Not heard of this? Don't worry, it's new.

A Wi-Fi enabled device in the shape of a USB drive, the Roku Streaming Stick connects to an MHL (Mobile High-definition Link)-ready HDMI input on 'Roku Ready' products, such as the Oppo BDP-103EU. Once it's tagged onto your network, a selection of IPTV channels are displayed (and more can be added). Those that work in the UK and are of the most interest (and free) are BBC iPlayer (with HD), TuneIn radio, Crackle and Netflix, again. It's a very nifty device, which retails in the US for $99. Oppo UK says it will be available to purchasers of the BDP-103EU at an as-yet undecided 'special price'. I'd definitely give it a consideration.

Even if you do shell out for a Roku Streaming Stick, you've still got a secondary HDMI input to worry about. Here, Oppo suggests you can connect a set-top box to utilise the talents of its (4K-scaling) Marvell Qdeo chippery. This sounds like a great idea on paper, but in practice I'm not really sure many will want to rewire their AV system.

But enough of such peripheral niceties, it's time to sample the Oppo's meat and potatoes - disc playback.

Called into action

A universal player, the BDP-103EU will happily spin CDs, DVDs, BDs (including 3D), DVD-As and Super Audio CDs. With the latter, you have the option of outputting via HDMI either PCM or DSD, should your AV receiver be able to handle the latter. Mine can't, but I found multichannel PCM to suit just fine. A hi-res live recording of The Eurythmics sounded simply exquisite, oozing clarity and a sense of space. Annie Lennox's vocals were achingly real, flanked by impactful percussion.

Stereo CD playback via the deck's analogue outputs is credible, but my personal preference (borne of a hatred of cable clutter) is to stick with HDMI. Those with real audiophile aspirations are anyway best advised to wait for the flagship BDP-105EU, which comes with all manner of sonic adornments, including ESS Sabre32 Reference DACs, balanced XLR outputs and an asynchronous USB DAC input.

And what of Blu-ray playback? Well, here the BDP-103EU proves faultless. Disc-loading speeds are insignificant thanks to the new dual-core SoC, and HD titles are delivered with panache. I found myself hunting for any noticeable flaws in its presentation but quickly gave up - this is a machine that invites you to sit back, relax and enjoy the movie.

Well, almost. During Tim Burton's latest slice of quirky horror, Dark Shadows, the sharpness and detailing was occasionally so mindboggling that I found it hard to concentrate on the plot. Close-ups of Johnny Depp's vampiric face revealed the powdery nature of his chalk-white makeup, while CG replicas of the Collins mansion were crammed with decaying brickwork. If there's texture and subtlety on your Blu-ray, this player will eke it out. Colour tones, meanwhile, seem unmolested and images, including swirls of dense fog, move with an organic smoothness.

All of this is achieved without fiddling with the Oppo's picture adjustment menus. I usually steer clear of player-based fine-tunery, but should you want to you can tweak eight parameters (but only six on the second HDMI output), including brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness. Tempting though it is to ramp up the latter, I found this only introduced ringing artefacts.

Another sub menu lets you play around with the depth setting of the Oppo's new 2D-3D conversion engine. Again, I advise avoiding the maximum setting here unless you want your eyeballs blown - but by no means completely ignore the BDP-103EU's stereoscopic trickery. I was pleasantly surprised with the stability and precision of its dimensionalisation. Of course, stick to authentic BD platters and the 3D is even better. Top Cat 3D looked as depth-charged as its flat animation will allow.

Absolute triumph

If I was buying a new Blu-ray player, I'd find it hard to see beyond the BDP-103EU. It's AV performance is top-notch, the feature set dizzying and, above all, it's a pleasure to use and built to exacting standards. I'm not enamoured with the HDMI input idea, don't need to see the Vudu logo on the home page and I spotted a typo in the manual. Other than that this is an absolute triumph.


HCC VERDICT

Oppo BDP-103EU
Price:
£500 Approx
www.oppo-bluray.co.uk

Highs: Exemplary build quality; faultless AV performance; worthwhile smart features; 'Roku Ready'

Lows: Some 'net services on the home menu can't be accessed; no catch-up channels

Performance: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 4.5/5
Overall: 5/5