OPPO UDP-203

A Eulogy for OPPO Digital

The announcement this week that respected Blu-ray player manufacturer OPPO Digital will halt production and exit the market was met with stunned disbelief by many home theater fans who’ve sworn by the brand over the years. The company’s decision leaves a major hole in the home theater product space. Will another competitor step in to fill it?

I’ve been a loyal follower of OPPO Digital since the company’s first product, the OPDV971H DVD player, was released back in 2005. At the time, the television industry was still in a transitional period from standard definition to HDTV, and most of the TVs on the market did a poor job of upconverting SD content up to high definition for display. Although a number of manufacturers offered upconversion features in their DVD players, the quality was highly variable. Many struggled to scale the interlaced video found on DVDs to progressive scan and higher resolutions, frequently resulting in aliasing artifacts (a.k.a. “jaggies”), smeary reds from Chroma Upsampling Error, and macroblocking or other pixelation issues.

The OPPO player, on the other hand, had (then) state-of-the-art deinterlacing that did a great job with film, video, and mixed-source signals of various complicated cadence patterns, and produced rock-solid images that tripped up even DVD players costing multiples of OPPO’s asking price. In addition to that, the player was also compatible with both the NTSC and PAL video standards and could convert either one to the other, could be made region-free by entering a secret remote control code, and supported playback of numerous media formats including VCD, HDCD, MPEG-4 AVI and more. For a very reasonable $199 MSRP, this little machine from an up-and-coming brand could seemingly do anything.

I stuck with OPPO and dutifully upgraded to successive player models that added new or improved features (such as replacing the DVI output with HDMI), and was always pleased by both the quality of the products and especially by the company’s commitment to customer service. OPPO quickly developed a sterling reputation among home theater circles for listening to feedback from users and issuing frequent firmware updates to improve features and fix glitches as they were detected. This put the company leagues ahead of its major brand competitors such as Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, et al.

OPPO sat out the high-def format war and waited for the dust to settle, finally issuing its first Blu-ray model in 2008 with the BDP-83. This was a fully-featured player for the time, with support for both the Profile 1.1 “Bonus View” and Profile 2.0 “BD-Live” functions (both of which withered in the industry eventually, but seemed important at the time). With the move to Blu-ray, OPPO also made a conscious decision to position its disc players as premium products with a higher $499 price point, even as the major brands were driving down prices for other Blu-ray players. In compensation, the BDP-83 provided top-class DVD upconversion and was a universal player compatible with both the DVD-Audio and SACD music formats, which few other brands supported.

This change in business strategy moved OPPO into even more of a specialized niche status than it had already been, but the company thrived within that niche, catering to dedicated enthusiasts who sought all the best features and quality without having to pay outrageous boutique label prices. (In 2008, the BDP-83’s closest direct competitor as a universal player was a Denon model costing $4,500.) OPPO’s subsequent Blu-ray models, the BDP-93 and BDP-103, added 3D support and upconversion to 4k resolution respectively. In addition to these, the company marketed audiophile versions of each model with beefed-up analog audio sections.

Once again perhaps a little slower than its competitors, OPPO entered the Ultra HD fray at the end of 2016 with the $549 UDP-203. For the average user, this was a tough sell when Sony’s UBP-X800 could be gotten for about half that price. However, the OPPO model is still one of the few UHD players to support Dolby Vision. The tone-mapping controls in its latest firmware (issued last month) are far superior to Sony’s, making it the best player on the market for those viewers (like myself) desiring to downconvert 4k HDR for playback on a 1080p SDR display. Moreover, it has HDMI inputs for full scaling and calibration control of external video sources, even 4k. The UDP-203 is as much a video processor as a disc player, and comparable video processors cost thousands of dollars.

OPPO is also the only Blu-ray player manufacturer to fully embrace the concept of Constant Image Height display. The UDP-203 includes a bevy of scaling and aspect ratio control features tailored to 21:9 CIH playback, either with or without use of an anamorphic lens. CIH users may only be a small sliver of the home theater community, but for those in that sliver, this player is an indispensible tool.

Unfortunately, the decline of the physical media market makes a premium, high-end disc player a difficult proposition. Reportedly, OPPO’s parent company in China decided to leave the home theater space entirely to focus on its core cell phone business. According to the announcement on the OPPO Digital web site:

“Though OPPO Digital will gradually stop manufacturing new products, existing products will continue to be supported, warranties will still be valid, and both in-warranty and out-of-warranty repair services will continue to be available. Firmware will continue to be maintained and updates released from time to time. Customers can rest assured that they will continue to receive the high quality service and support that they have come to expect from OPPO Digital.”

How long that support will realistically last is unknown at present.

No other Blu-ray or UHD player on the market offers nearly the same feature set that the current OPPO Digital models do, and I honestly can’t foresee any bothering to do so in the future. For the segment of viewers who use or rely on those features, this is a huge loss.

32 comments

  1. gene

    I just ordered a 203 from Crutchfield to go along with my 83 and 103. They are the best ever and the customer service is like no other. The loss of the OPPO line of players is devastating to the industry. If you never owned an OPPO you won’t understand, but if you do you know exactly what I am saying. I trust they will continue with servicing and updating for the foreseeable future.Legally they are obligated to do so but these guys have been so good to their customers I am sure they will without any pressure from outside sources. Thanks OPPO for spoiling owners with a bar set so high . You will be missed.

  2. With OPPO you were dealing with people who gave a damn. A/V enthusiasts themselves, “one of us”.

    A lot of little features that add up. The 203 added Closed-caption decoding for older DVDs without actual subtitles. I use it!

    Great support for legacy gear and formats.

    They supported the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray calibration disc, then gave free copies to the -83 buyers.

    They will be missed.

    • They added closed-caption decoding for older DVDs without subtitles? How does that work? Does the machine ‘listen’ to the spoken voices, and add text of its own?

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        Closed Captioning is a separate form of subtitle (usually displayed as white text inside a big black box) that’s embedded in the blanking interval of the video signal. This is a fairly antiquated technology that was developed for broadcast use many decades ago. Rather than turning on subtitles in a DVD menu, a special CC decoder is needed. Although some DVDs are encoded with Closed Captions, most DVD players ignore the feature, assuming that a viewer would either use the regular DVD subtitles or would have a CC decoder in the TV.

          • William Henley

            Is your LaserDisc player and decoder both NTSC and using NTSC discs? I am thinking CC was unique to NTSC – Pal went with Teletext. As far as I know, there was no CC standard in PAL areas, and if there was, it would have worked differently as it is encoded into the video signal

            Most older DVDs that had CC on them instead of subtitles, that I am aware of, were simply sourced from older masters. It was pretty common on television shows that were released on DVDs.

            CC is still used in the USA for broadcast television. I guess since everything is digital now, there is no reason why they couldn’t do it in all regions. I am sure Europe probably calls it subtitles

        • Scarabaeus

          The problem is that CC data from a DVD could travel over composite or component cables to the TV (which has a FCC mandated decoder), but not over HDMI. Therefore it is now necessary that the source device has to decode CC and overlay it on top of the video. This is FCC mandated only for set top boxes, but not for DVD players.

  3. Judas Cradle

    As soon as I heard, I immediately bought another 203 as a backup. The greatest player ever.
    Some may come close to OPPO – but (among other features) no other player upconverts DVDs to look like Blu rays like OPPO does.
    Also of note- OPPO made a point of saying that they will not only continue firmware updates, but that they even have finished the update for the Low Latency Dolby Vision required for Sony TVs (still has to pass muster with Dolby Labs before it will be pushed out).
    Even as they begin to close shop, they are keeping the best customer service in the business.
    (And will continue for at least 2 years).
    Man, I am going to miss them.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      The American division, which makes Blu-ray players and headphones, will halt production and only remain with a support staff. The Chinese parent company, BBK Electronics, will continue to use the OPPO brand for its cell phone business.

  4. Timcharger

    So interesting that the common perception is that Chinese companies just follow the knock-off, cheaper-is-better business model. They just steal designs/ideas/IP for immediate short-term gains, instead of fostering a loyal customer base with quality and support. So it is that much more sad, that this Chinese company wasn’t able to continue with this customer-friendly business model.

      • Timcharger

        And the parent company is Chinese.

        Are you suggesting that for 15 years, the Chinese parent company didn’t know (and didn’t invest in) the business model of its own subsidiary?

  5. Scott H

    I purchased the OPPO BDP 93, as at the time I was using my PS3 as my bluray player but didn’t like how noisy it was during play back. I looked at a few different brands and decided on the OPPO, because of the quiet operation, dual HDMI ports, fast loading speed as well as the upscaling features, HDCD and SACD decoding. Such an awesome player. The brand will be missed.

  6. SteveB

    I have a Panasonic 1080p Plasma TV. Do you think it would be worth buying the OPPO UDP-203 even though that TV is not 4k? I’d kind of like to get one while they’re still available, but it’ll have to work with the Panasonic until such time as I upgrade to a 4k display (but I still do love the Panasonic Plasma.)

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    • Ally

      I used to have a Panasonic 1080p plasma. I have the Oppo 203 with an LG OLED. I would recommend that you upgrade to this type of TV so that you can enjoy the wonder of HDR.

    • Like all UHD players it supports 1080p output and for Blu-ray discs will be the same as a Blu-ray player.

      You can also play UHD discs and downscale them to 1080p. The gotcha there is the new HDR contrast capability. It has to be mapped to the non-HDR display and this requires some experimentation. The player has adjustments for it.

      UHD discs come with Blu-ray versions and it is sometimes better just to stick with that. Sometimes the the UHD disc will have audio the Blu-ray doesn’t and people want that.

  7. Josh, let’s not forget their “D” model implementation as well. That’s what made me jump on the Oppo bandwagon, the 103D. Darbee had a vision, Oppo thought, what a great product, let’s meld the two. I haven’t turned back since. And adding an Oppo stopped my bitstream audio bomb problem as well, which Samsung played stupid to, despite having two different models. Samsung blamed the hdmi cable and the receiver and I never got past level 1 support. With Oppo you always got a knowledgeable enthusiast on the other end and they didn’t secretly hide their support address.

  8. genesim

    While I appreciate the post and agree with 99% of what is written, I do not agree that this is any signal of the end of bluray or physical media period.

    The renters market has always been there and the percentages have barely changed if you consider that many DVD fly by night supporters didn’t have a viable competing option before streaming came along.

    Copying, distributing, streaming, has always been there in force from the days of blank VHS tapes, floppy discs to the downloaders since the first inception of the internet.

    I hate to see quality go, but at the same time, it is hard to deny that technology that electronic technology is getting cheaper and cheaper (yes quality too unfortunately).

    For the renters that jumped on to streaming, good riddance. This is a great time for collecting and other than some serious blockbuster titles that are missing because of corporate greed, I welcome all the great releases that are coming out because of licensing and smaller companies that are preserving film in some great 4K scanned releases.

    The death of OPPO is terrible, but let it not leak into the tired “physical media is dead” routine. The decline of DVD was inevitable because of the fickle renters that were never going to stay. They do not dictate the future anymore than any other rented mindset that think they are the only ones worthy of a voice.

      • genesim

        I didn’t say anything about about physical meda supporters. That includes DVD buyers and renters that still want to support a peer reviewed save state.

        Purposeful misrepresentation of my post is not constructive.

  9. Pedram

    I get that oppo makes quality hardware, but it’s always been too ovepriced for my tastes (even though I consider myself an enthusiast), and I can’t be the only one.

    I looked at the 203 UHD player, but then got a Philips one that does Dolby Vision and maps HDR to an SDR display quite well, and it was about 1/3 the price. With a price/performance ratio like that, I can’t say I’m surprised by this news.

  10. Al

    Is there a region-free kit for the 203? If not, I’m pretty sure that E. once said that the kit for the 103 works on the 203, in one of the forums, but I can’t find it anywhere. Does anyone know if the region-free kit for the 103 works on the 203?

      • Al

        Thanks, Josh. Do you know if you still change the region, the same way? For external application, you would press dimmer, dimmer, dimmer, mute, and then the region number (1 for A; 2 for B; 3 for C)?

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          Yes, everything’s the same.

          OPPO accidentally sent me a 203 locked to Region B (it may have been a B-stock return). I couldn’t play any Region A discs in it until I popped the region mod out of my 103 and put it in the 203. I had the button sequence for switching regions programmed into my Harmony Hub, activated by Alexa voice command. I told Alexa to turn on “Region 1” (frustratingly, she doesn’t understand when I say “Region A” and keeps asking me to clarify, so I had to call it “Region 1” instead). Anyway, the player works fine now and will switch between A and B with the normal commands.

          • Al

            Thank you! One last thing, Josh. When running the 203 with a non-4K display, which HDR option do you choose? I’m assuming that you’re selecting “HDR off — Rec 709.” Is that right? You’re not choosing “Strip Metadata”, or “HDR off — Rec 2020”, are you?

          • Josh Zyber
            Author

            I will have to check later, but as I recall, I found no difference between HDR Off and just leaving it at Auto. Because I don’t have an HDR display, the Auto setting turns off HDR anyway. Same thing with Rec. 2020.

            Strip Metadata, on the other hand, gave me a really terrible picture, so I definitely don’t use that. That feature is designed for a very specific usage case that I don’t fall into.

            I believe adjusting the Target Luminance setting made some big differences in picture quality, especially on problem discs likes Starship Troopers (which has really jacked-up contrast).

          • Al

            Josh, thank you. Please check on it, and let me know.

            The target luminance thing is intriguing. I’m assuming you got a better picture by dialing that down? Maybe set it at 100 nits?

          • Al

            Sorry, Josh… one more thing… if you could check on which HDR to SDR mode you’ve had the most success with, I would be extremely grateful! I look forward to you checking back in with these things. Thanks again, for your continued operation of this blog.

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