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.