Boffo Oppo a Blu-ray Hero
The Oppo BDP-83 may cost several hundred dollars more than premium models from Sony, Samsung or Panasonic. But such is its convenience, versatility and virtuosity that HD buffs won’t regret their $1350 investment.
True, you can buy a quality Blu-ray player for under $500 that provides comparable HD video but it will offer only a handful of the features that distinguish the BDP-83.
Arguably the most notable are its video processing prowess and it being hardware modified to play region- or zone-free Blu-rays and DVDs.
Rival Blu-ray players can be hacked by third parties to do likewise but usually this voids the manufacturer’s warranty whereas the BDP-83 can be bought officially modified, with guarantee intact, from its NZ distributor, RapalloAV.
As a result, it will play DVDs or Blu-rays from anywhere in the world, regardless of their regional coding.
DVDs play automatically while Blu-ray movies simply require switching the BDP-83 to a different zone via the remote control.
Blu-ray releases aren’t cursed with regional coding to the same extent as DVDs. Most studios don’t restrict their high-definition releases to one of three world zones — NZ is ‘B’ — but 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney do while others have variable policies.
For instance, the first three seasons of TV’s Weeds on Blu-ray are region-free, which is a boon for Kiwi fans given Prime doesn’t air it in HD and only one season has been released here on Blu-ray.
But season four, which will be released here only on DVD in May, is zoned A, as is season five (which has just gone on sale in the US but has yet to screen on Prime).
Not all movies are offered here on Blu-ray, either. Case in point: Sunshine Cleaning, NZ filmmaker Christine Jeffs’ first US feature. It came out on Blu-ray in the US but is zoned ‘A’ and can be bought or rented here only on DVD.
Then there are the niche movies, like The 400 Blows, Paris Texas, 8½ and Chunking Express, and TV series like Dexter and 24 that don’t air here in HD and so far have been released in NZ only on DVD.
While the number of regionally locked titles alone may not justify the BDP-83’s price tag, ownership does allow you to source competitively-priced Blu-ray movies confidently from the likes of Amazon, often ahead of their NZ release (odds-on Oscar favourite The Hurt Locker), without having to check to see if they’re region-free on sites like Blu-ray Region Code Info.
Authorised hardware modification isn’t the BDP-83’s only point of difference. It’s also a universal player, which means it will spin SACD and Audio-DVD discs, and boasts Anchor Bay processing that will upscale DVDs to a higher resolution than standard definition.
There’s still no mistaking them for HD transfers but my Region 1 DVD collection of classic sitcoms from the ‘60s and ‘70s – Green Acres, Mary Tyler Moore, Barney Miller, Taxi, The Bob Newhart Show – has never looked better. (The BDP-83 even will convert DVDs to the same 24p output as Blu-rays.)
As well as its superior, elegant construction and a comprehensive, intelligently-written manual, the BDP-83 comes in Apple-quality packaging, can be set up in snap with the help of an on-screen wizard, and will pipe HD audio to older a/v receivers with the analogue inputs to accept it.
The BDP-83 does have a couple of limitations: it’s BD-Live ready but can’t be connected wirelessly to the Internet; and it can’t fast-forward or rewind quicker than five times normal play.
But these are trifling criticisms given how fast it loads Blu-ray discs, its extensive picture calibration tools, its near-silent operation, its masterful remote control and extras like automatic aspect ratio control.
The learning remote won’t win kudos for its looks but the design is textbook-perfect. It’s backlit, intuitive and places the most important functions, like zoom and resolution, within easy reach rather than deep with multi-step, on-screen menus.
The BDP-83 ships with a Spears & Munsil Blu-ray calibration disc that it sails through as well as a Blu-ray AIX audio calibration disc; it is also ScreenScribe.tv’s choice for reviewing Blu-ray releases and comparing the performance of other Blu-ray players.