Oppo-tunity knocks

When it comes to image and audio quality, Benny Har-Even can’t get enough of Oppo's new 3D Blu-ray player

They say the best things come to those who wait and in the case of Oppo’s BDP-93EU, that most certainly is true. Having already forged a reputation amongst AV-holics for its high quality, yet affordable, upscaling DVD players, its debut Blu-ray player, the BDP-831, (HCC #175) impressed UK buyers at the end of 2009 before distribution issues spoilt the party.

Fortunately, its successor, the BDP-93EU, is now available and shipping over here via a dedicated Oppo website, which, as we will find out, is jolly good news.

So why all the fuss? As many will recall, the Oppo BDP-831 was one of a rare breed of Blu-ray players that could play back almost every optical based format you could throw at it, with SACD and DVD-Audio adding lustre. The new BDP-93EU can, of course, do the same, but now adds 3D compatibility into the mix and promises even better video processing courtesy of Marvell’s Kyoto-Gen 2 Qdeo chip.

Another welcome addition to the spec roster is DLNA network streaming, which bolsters the file format playback from USB.

While the US version of this player even includes Netflix and Blockbuster streaming, the EU model is currently devoid of any streaming services, although Oppo promises YouTube will be added at some point. In the meantime Google’s Picasa image sharing site is available and worked well enough.

In the bag

While I wouldn’t normally go deep into the ‘unboxing’ experience, the Oppo’s lavish packaging deserves a mention and immediately imbues a sense of quality to the proceedings. You even get an Oppo-branded carry bag, should you want to lug the player over to your friend’s house and want to attract the attention of muggers.

I also approve of the updated look of the player. The black brushed-metal fascia looks suitably impressive and will not seem out of place on a premium AV rack. As well as looks, the 4.9kg player has a solid heft to it that sets it apart from the budget crowd. This adds to the quality feel and bodes well for performance.

Wizard of Op

Setup of the BDP-93EU proved effortless, with a wizard driving you through the basics, while a plethora of adjustments (including Hue, Saturation and Noise Reduction) are all available via a highly effective GUI that’s navigable via the chunky, backlit remote with decent sized buttons. Easier still are three presets, and you can switch between them on the fly.

The front fascia is bare except for a display running down the centre, the power button and some navigation controls, and nestling in the bottom right-hand corner there’s a flap covering one of the two USB ports, with the other on the rear. Pleasingly, neither has to provide external memory for BD-Live content as 1GB of memory is built-in. Instead the USB port can be used more productively to play back content from a wide range of formats such as DivX, Xvid, MP4 and MKV. I chose to use the rear USB port for the wi-fi dongle, which is included with the player rather than offered as an optional extra.

Another potential playback source is a rear e-SATA port, though connected drives have to be powered to be recognised. Other delights at the rear include an Ethernet socket for connecting to a wired network and the welcome addition of a secondary HDMI port. This can be used either to connect to video displays at the same time, or to enable you to enjoy full lossless sound from Blu-ray when using an older HMDI v1.3 amp – one HDMI cable going to the TV for picture, and the other sending audio to the amp for decoding.

Setting up the Oppo on my network via wi-fi proved child’s play and, once done, pressing the Home button on the remote brings up the network options. This enables internet-based firmware updating, and proved very useful when, during the review process, an update added support for Synology NAS drives.

Once the simple update completed, the player could see and play files from the drive over the network. I found all my video test files played back flawlessly and could be scrolled through, crucially including MKV-wrapped files. Photos are supported and audio playback, too, although I was surprised to find that standard MP3s would not play. This is apparently down to licensing issues, which Oppo say should be resolved soon. Meanwhile, FLAC, WMA and Apple AAC MP4 files were fine, although Apple’s lossless MP4s are not supported.

Moving to disc playback, the disc tray slid out smoothly and silently, confirming my impressions of solid build quality. My Dark Knight BD disc also went from ‘tray open’ to first video in a speedy 22 seconds – and our Tech Labs enjoyed similarly rapid results with their test disc, rating it one of the quickest spinners yet.

Lush...

Once into the movie, I was treated to astonishing image quality. Pictures were free of any discernable noise, everything looked crisp and there was bags of visible detail in dark areas of the picture. Perhaps the best way to describe it is ‘lush’.

Naturally, the deck is 24p capable, and my overriding impression was of a judder-free image, appreciably superior to that of my Sony PlayStation 3. This strong yet natural image pays dividends when watching 3D content, and on resident Samsung UE55C9000 test TV, the stereoscopic versions of Ice Age 3 and Avatar played back flawlessly and have never looked better.

In terms of standard-def material, the player will upscale everything up to 1080p, courtesy of the Marvell Kyoto chip, and the results were of a high standard, with images free of any moiré or troublesome jaggies. Scrolling credits were all handled without any breakup.

On balance, I preferred the Oppo’s upscaling to the Anchor Bay processing in my Marantz SR7005 receiver, which is high praise indeed. Many potential fans of BDP-93EU will be interested in its audio performance. If anything, it was this that left the biggest smile on my faces. The presence of onboard decoding and full 7.1 phono connections on the back will enable users with older amps to enjoy lossless surround from DTS-MA HD and Dolby TrueHD, while as a music player, the 93EU is certainly no slouch. Cirrus Logic CS4382A DACs sit under the hood and I felt using these to feed the analogue outputs delivered slightly more warmth and tighter bass than HDMI. Our Tech Labs measured analogue audio jitter at a very low 188 picoseconds, which is an excellent result.

For those wanting to keep cabling simple the player can output native DSD from SACD into compatible receivers via HDMI, but while my Marantz receiver didn’t support this, I still found myself absorbed by the detail and power of Dark Side of the Moon on SACD and The Beatles' Love on DVD-Audio.

While a Pure Direct mode can also defeat the display light and video circuitry to further reduce distortion, true audiophiles might wish to save their pennies for the forthcoming higher-end BDP-95EU, which will offer even better DACs and balanced XLR connections.

Easy to recommend

For both Blu-ray and audio this is a clearly a near-reference quality deck, and as such offers outstanding value for money. The online portals may be lacking compared to mainstream rivals, but where it really counts, in picture and audio quality, and disc compatibility, the BDP-93EU is a very attractive and highly recommended proposition.

For the money, it’s nothing less than a bargain. Fingers crossed that the Californian brand hangs around the UK a little longer this time...


HCC VERDICT

Oppo BDP-93EU
Price:
£500 Approx

Highs: Solid build quality; fast disk loading; superior audio quality; near reference picture quality.
Lows: MP3 playback absent; lack-lustre online content options

Performance: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 5/5


Specifications

3D: yes
Upscaling: yes all resolutions up to 1080p
Multiregion: no Region B BD/R2 DVD
HDMI: yes two outputs, both v1.4a
Component: yes 1 Output
Multichannel analogue: yes 7.1 phono outputs
Digital audio: yes Optical and coaxial
SACD/DVD-A: yes/yes
Dolby TrueHD/DTS HD decoding: yes/yes
Dolby True HD/DTS HD bitstream: yes/yes
Profile 2.0: yes 2GB internal storage for BD-Live
Dimensions: 430 (w) x 311(d) x 79(h)mm
Weight: 4.9Kg
Also featuring: 2GB internal storage; 2 x USB inputs (one front, one rear); 1 x e-SATA; DivX, Xvid, AVI and MKV playback from USB and network; Pure Audio mode; Cirrus Logic CS4382A DACs; online firmware updates; Source Direct mode; Marvell Kyoto-G2 video processor with the second-gen Qdeo™ technology