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OPPO adds Darbee processing to an outstanding universal audio/video device

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One of my favorite home theater hardware makers has a newer version of its "lower end" Blu-ray player, one that adds a fantastic video processing wrinkle to an already great player.

OPPO Digital's BDP-103D (the final "D" indicates the presence of the Darbee stuff) is a fantastic player - but don't just think of it as a Blu-ray or disc player. That's because, like its big brother the BDP-105 (and 105D) and its non-Darbee sibling the BDP-103, it not only handles your Blu-rays, DVD's and CD's, it'll play just about any audio and video format you throw at it.

I could use most of this column space just listing the player's features and capabilities, so I'll try to only hit the highlights - and there are plenty of them. Besides functioning as a 2D/3D Blu-ray player (it up converts 2D to 3D as well), it'll also hook into your network and let you access (depending on where you live and what you've subscribed to) Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, Roku, Pandora and Rhapsody services. It'll also play Kodak Picture CD's and AVCHD, MP4, AVI, MKV files.

There's an abundance of audio file formats out there these days, but OPPO has a handle on most of them, whether disc-based (DVD-Audio, SACD, CD and HDCD discs, for example) or not - right up to high resolution, lossless FLAC and WAV files. It's amazing flexibility that extends right to native DSD files that aren't disc-based, and if your receiver or preamp isn't capable of decoding such signals (or others such as the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio that Blu-rays use), the OPPO will convert 'em to PCM, which just about everything will read. That means you can use the BDP-103D with lower end or older audio equipment - a nice path to upgrading that gets you instant gratification.

You can access the files from a disc, the network or a USB device (there are three USB 2.0 high speed ports, one on the front and two on the back).

The ins and outs…

Getting your audio out of the OPPO is limited only by your imagination. There are two HDMI v1.4a output ports as well as optical and coaxial digital outputs. My preferred method is to use the player's 7.1 analog outputs (though I only use 5.1) hooked directly into my Rotel preamp/processor's analog inputs - bypassing any processing once the signal leaves the OPPO.

Naturally, you have to take into account the source material; as great as this player's sound reproduction is, it can't turn a sow's purse into a silk ear - but if you feed it well, it'll reward your ears nicely.

You can use the unit's twin HDMI outputs to send audio and/or video to multiple devices, which is nice if, for example, you want to feed a video projector and an audio system at the same time or send 3D video to one display and 2D to another. I send separate video feeds to my projector and to a smaller LCD TV I keep in the home theater so that, when I'm listening to music discs that have menus (such as DVD-A or BD audio), I can just fire up the little screen and not waste the projector's expensive lamp life. It works great, though the projector gets a tad lonely.

There are also two HDMI inputs, so you can plug another device into the BDP-103D - a set top box or camcorder, perhaps? - and use the OPPO's prodigious processing power to enhance the other devices' output as well. I plugged in an HD satellite receiver - whose picture I consider substandard on its own - and the result was quite satisfying. Especially with the Darbee processing fired up.

Pictures perfect…

The BDP-103D's video performance is as good as its audio, even if you don't fire up the Darbee stuff. I auditioned an abundance of my favorite reference discs - from "The Fifth Element" and "Marvel's Avengers" to such older but still spectacular titles as "The Professionals" and many others. As I expected, given OPPO's history of making great products, the BDP-103D did a fantastic job.

It's even better when you active Darbee's Visual Presence technology, which they say embeds stereoscopic depth information into 2D or 3D video to provide greater clarity and a better perception of depth, resulting in a more lifelike experience. Having spent extended hours watching stuff "Darbeed and not Darbeed," I can assure you that it works as advertised, and once you get used to it, you'll probably leave it on most of, if not all, the time.

Heck, I watched movies I knew like the back of my hand and the difference was clear. On Star Wars Episode IV, for example, we noticed details we never had before, from textures on seat backs to fingermarks all over R2D2's top, to fine detail on faces, clothes, whatever. The processing adds a sense of depth that's even better than what you can get natively from a good Blu-ray. It's quite addictive - so much so that I've contacted the Darbee folk to see if I can try their standalone processor with other equipment I have.

You can adjust the amount of Darbee processing from the remote control (directly from the remote's button or via the player's on screen menus), customizing the effect to your taste. You can also audition the processing via either a split or a "swipe" screen that lets you see the "before" and "after" effect. Better is to just sit back and let it wash over you, though.

There are three basic settings: Hi-Def, Gaming, and Full Pop. I used Hi-Def on Blu-rays and tried Full Pop on some substandard video files and it worked well with both - though it was especially and not surprisingly good when you start with quality source material.

A great thing about Darbee is that, unlike such common TV tweaks as noise reduction, sharpness and the like, it doesn't affect the picture negatively. Generally, when you unpack a TV, you should shut off all the stuff like that (including "Tru Motion" or whatever a particular brand calls the frame rate conversion that in my experience tends to make video look detailed but fake). But you can leave the Darbee on and not worry about it degrading the picture.

Besides the Darbee processing, I was particularly curious how the BDP-103D performs at up converting video to 4K. Fortunately, LG had loaned me their new 55 inch 4K unit, so I had the chance to do just that - and I was impressed. The OPPO doesn't up convert everything - the source material has to be 24p and 2D - but the "fake 4K" picture is spectacular. I watched some of my best 1080p Blu-rays and switched between them and the native 4K content LG supplied. I also watched the old Superbit Ultra DVD of "The Mask of Zorro" and it was impressive as well; naturally, it wasn't as good as an up converted Blu-ray can be, but it was easily the best I've seen from a DVD.

It may not be a big deal for many people yet, but it's a good way to exploit 4K despite the fact there's little native 4K content available yet.

We're not done yet. The BDP-103 also offers multiple levels of aspect ratio control and zooming, and a vertical stretch mode lets videophiles who have a Constant Image Height display system with an anamorphic lens. A "subtitle shift" feature even lets you move the subtitles up or down, so the text doesn't run off the screen when you're using a CIH display.

As is usual for OPPO, the BDP-103D offers a wide range of other video and audio controls, available through its setup menus. For video, you can tweak the brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, noise reduction, video smoothing, detail and edge enhancements, though when I used the HD Essential setup disc on the OPPO it didn't need any changes from the way it came out of the box. You can also set its output resolution to anywhere from 480i to 4k - or source direct, if you don't want the player up converting the video from its native resolution.

For audio, you can set it to default to stereo or multi-channel SACD's, to treat DVD-A discs as audio rather than video (you still get their menus, but it defaults to the lossless tracks rather than the regular lossy DVD soundtrack), and more.

As mentioned above, the BDP-103D will stream files from your network, though navigating your network with the remote control can be a bit of a pain. But even here OPPO has ridden to the rescue, with an iOS app that lets you browse your media libraries, control playback of files, and even turn the player off from your smart device. It works well and lets you scroll through your network folders easily, with your finger, rather than pointing the remote at the screen and moving up and down clunkily via its buttons.

This is a company that really does it up right, right up to tossing a copy of the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark Blu-ray, which has some nice test material, into the box, along with a good HDMI cable and even a black fabric carrying case you can use to feel smug about your environmental prowess when you buy groceries. Of course you can also haul around the BDP-103D in it when you take it to amaze your friends in their home theaters.

OPPO even includes a little USB extender you can use to maximize your wireless network's signal strength. I had to resort to that when I had trouble with the BDP-103D on my network, but moving OPPO's Wi-Fi receiver from the rear panel to a location a few feet away made a huge difference.

I've gushed about OPPO products before, including some in my "favorite products of the year" lists, and this is yet another fine product. I'm constantly amazed at how they keep upping their own ante with equipment that just keeps getting better and better - and with substantive upgrades rather than just tossing in extra stuff to make the product seem new. That includes periodic firmware updates that increase the players' value.

This Darbee edition of the BDP-103 continues that fine tradition, and the Darbee capability is definitely worth the extra hundred bucks

The company also makes a higher end model, the BDP-105D, which has better sound quality from its analog audio outputs (not that the 103's a slouch!), a toroidal power supply and two sets of dedicated stereo analog outputs (balanced and unbalanced). It also includes a built in headphone amplifier and three extra digital audio inputs: optical, coaxial, and a two channel asynchronous USB DAC input. That player sells for $1199/$1299 (without/with Darbee) and is a big and heavy thing that could actually replace your preamp. It's an excellent product in its own right, as you might expect.

But if that's a little dear for you, or you don't need those extra capabilities, you'll hardly be slumming with the BDP-103D. Quite simply, it's excellent.

Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
TechnoFile.com

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