Posted Fri Sep 14, 2018 at 04:05 PM PDT by David Krauss
Oh, how we all adore our Oppo Blu-ray & 4K Blu-ray players! The superior build quality, the plethora of features that cater to serious videophiles and audiophiles, the terrific upscaling and downconverting, and gorgeous picture quality. When the company ceased production of its beloved disc players earlier this year, movie fans mourned and bemoaned the loss, but as other companies like Panasonic and Pioneer step up to fill the void, many of us are quickly realizing there is indeed life after Oppo, and the future isn't as bleak as we thought it would be. With new players both on the market and on the horizon, the question must be asked...
Do we still need our Oppo players?
Technology continues to evolve, so should we cling to the past or embrace the future? Do the Oppo players still reside on a rarefied plane, or should we pack them away on a closet shelf? I still own two Oppo Blu-ray players - the BDP-103D and the UDP-203 - and, with apologies to the late, great Charlton Heston, no one will pry these excellent players from my cold, dead hands anytime soon. Yet I also love my brand new Panasonic DP-UB820 Blu-ray player, which now occupies the flagship position in my primary home theater setup. If I was in the market for a new player right now, would I pay a king's ransom for a new Oppo player on eBay or "settle" for the Panasonic? That's a no-brainer. Panny all the way! For $499, the Panasonic UB820 gives me everything I want right now from a UHD player, including built-in support for the fledgling HDR10+ format. The Oppo, though, has some bells and whistles the Panny doesn't (especially when it comes to audio), so there are some strong arguments for sitting tight with your Oppo for the time being, especially if you own a projector with an anamorphic lens.
To help you decide whether to remain on the sidelines or wade into new waters, let's take an in-depth look at the Oppo UDP-203 and Panasonic DP-UB820, so you can determine what might work best for your setup and viewing/listening preferences.
Oppo has always prided itself on producing a sturdy, stylish machine that looks and feels like its built for performance. Unpacking one of those brand new babies from its carton was always a supreme delight, and it's an experience I will sorely miss. Yet once the Oppo is safely ensconced in your equipment rack, it doesn't exude the same cachet. While the Panasonic build definitely feels "cheaper," and its lighter-by-two-pounds weight lacks the signature Oppo heft, some sleek accents, and a shiny finish make it an attractive enough component that's definitely a cut above previous Panny Blu-ray models.
While the rear panels of both players feature dual HDMI out jacks (so the video signal doesn't need to pass through your A/V receiver), an optical audio output, 7.1 analog capability, an Ethernet port, and a USB 3.0 port, Oppo ups the ante with an HDMI input, a coaxial audio out jack, an additional USB 3.0 port, an RS-232C serial control port, a trigger output, and a trigger input. I'm a simple HDMI guy, so the Panasonic suits me just fine, but if you have a complex setup and flexibility is important to you, then Oppo has the edge.
While both players allow you to select your preferred resolution, color depth mode (YCbCr or RGB), deep color output level, 3D, 24p, HDR, and Dolby Vision settings (yes, the promised firmware update now equips all UB820s with Dolby Vision support), and both enable you to change the position of subtitles, that's where the similarities end. The Oppo menu does let you save three custom picture modes (composed of adjustable brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction levels), but I've never taken the time to fool with that, preferring instead to adjust the picture, if necessary, through my TV. It also has nine zoom settings, on-board 3D conversion (so you can lend your 4K discs a more dimensional feel...if you have a 3D TV), the ability to change the color, outline, size, and sync of subtitles, and features three pre-set modes for HDR to SDR downconversion.
The Panasonic UB820 doesn't have any zoom, 3D conversion, or adjustable downconversion settings, but is cutting edge when it comes to UHD settings, offering HDR10+ support, 4K60p and HDR/Color Gamut settings, HLG/PQ Conversion, 25p/50p output, and SDR to HDR conversion on SDR network content. Its biggest leap forward, though, is the HDR Optimizer, which can be launched during playback of an HDR disc. This handy tool has four preset brightness options that enable you to tailor HDR output on the fly to suit the light levels in your viewing environment. The Optimizer also opens up a more intensive set of tools that allow you to tinker with dynamic range and brightness levels, as well as black and white tone curves, which ever so slightly enhance detail levels in those areas. In addition, the UB820 features two customizable UHD picture modes that include the aforementioned HDR settings along with color adjustments (saturation and hue), sharpness adjustments (luma [high- and mid-frequency], chroma, and edge correction), and noise reduction adjustments (separate settings for block, random, and mosquito). (Once again, I don't think I'll ever use this feature, but I'm sure plenty of people out there will.) Standard Blu-ray discs also have two customizable picture modes, though the video menus are slightly different. The same luminance, color, sharpness, and noise reduction settings are there, as well as six preset viewing options (normal, cinema, fine cinema, retro cinema, animation, and live) and normal and projector display options. While the Panny doesn't offer as many subtitle settings as the Oppo, it does allow you to change the luminance of the subtitles along with their positioning, something the Oppo does not.
Both the Oppo and Panny are well equipped to provide a fantastic viewing experience, but the Panasonic's new HDR Optimizer and ability to manipulate black and white tone curves, as well as its support for HDR10+, give the UB820 the edge here.
I'm not going to spend much time or space extolling the virtues of both of these top-of-the-line Blu-ray players. (For detailed reviews of both players, click here for the Oppo UDP-203 and here for the Panasonic DP-UB820.) Suffice it to say both the Oppo and Panasonic provide breathtaking viewing experiences, bringing your 4K UHD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray discs - hell, even your standard-def DVDs - to brilliant life. Colors pop, details are razor sharp, depth is palpable, and playback is virtually seamless. I feel the Panasonic handles fast motion slightly better than the Oppo, supplying a smoother, more stable image with only the slightest hint of jitter. 3D also looks a hair crisper and a tad more vivid on the Panasonic, and I think the Panny does a slightly better job with upscaling (which is really saying something, because the Oppo has always been known for its superior scaling). I was not able to test either player's downconversion capabilities for this review, although some online forum threads seem to indicate the Panasonic UB820 handle that tricky task a bit better than the Oppo line.
One feature the Panasonic has that the Oppo doesn't is the ability to watch Blu-ray and DVD content slightly speeded up by moving to the first fast forward position. This trick is most handy for listening to audio commentaries, cutting down their time by about a third, but it also works nicely for watching special features. While I would never watch a movie in this mode, it enables me to get through supplemental material - which I very much enjoy, but don't always have time for - much quicker. Why Oppo never adopted this feature, which has been a Panasonic staple for years, has always bewildered me.
In the end, all the margins between the two players from the playback perspective are razor thin, so you really can't go wrong with either machine. But after putting both through their paces, if I had to choose between the two, I'd pick Panasonic by a nose.
If you want SACD or DVD-A, then this one's a no-brainer. Oppo scores big because Panasonic doesn't support those formats. Oppo's lead in this category widens with its breadth of customizable settings. Oppo has long been regarded as the premier Blu-ray player of choice for audiophiles, and the Panasonic UB820 doesn't compete. (The upcoming Panasonic DB-UB9000, due out this fall in the U.S., promises more Oppo-like audio features, along with a much heftier price tag than the UB820.) The Oppo UDP-203 allows you to configure your surround sound speakers, set crossover levels, select filter characteristics, manage volume levels and dynamic range control, and adjust A/V sync on the fly while watching recorded content. It also lets you customize your DVD-A and SACD listening experiences.
The Panasonic UB820 does have 7.1 Channel Audio Reformatting, which can expand signals of 6.1 or less to 7.1, dynamic range compression, 10 sound effects options, a dialogue enhancer, and settings for high-quality sound. It also has an A/V sync tool, but it's only accessible through the setup menu, which means you have to leave the movie you're watching, adjust the sync, then go back to the film to see if the setting is acceptable. If it isn't, you have to repeat the cumbersome process until the result is satisfactory. Very annoying. Hopefully, a future firmware update will put the A/V Sync tool in the options menu so it can be adjusted more easily.
Panasonic is the clear winner here, namely because Oppo decided not to include any onboard streaming services on the UDP-203. Both the Oppo and Panasonic feature both wireless and Ethernet connectivity, and network for both is a snap. Though the Panasonic UB820 originally shipped with only Netflix pre-loaded, recent firmware updates have added Amazon Prime Video and, most recently, YouTube. (The UB820 network hub also features a link to an app store where the pickings - as of this writing - remain frustratingly slim, but more options should be added in the coming months.) Playback on all streaming formats has been smooth and seamless so far, with quick response and loading times.
With universal remotes so prevalent, many of us might not use individual remotes for each component, which might be why the Panasonic remote is fairly stripped down. Both have basic functions, but the Oppo remote is easier to manage, thanks to motion-sensitive backlighting, which the Panasonic remote doesn't have, a bigger footprint (longer by two inches and slightly wider), and buttons that are more spread out. You can do just about anything with the Oppo remote, from changing resolution, audio, video, and subtitle settings to adjusting the brightness of the front panel screen and setting up personalized segments to repeat. The Setup menu can be accessed while watching content, as well as a comprehensive Options menu.
Plenty of options can be accessed through the Panasonic remote on the fly, but you must leave your movie and return to the home screen to access the Setup menu. The HDR Optimizer can be easily accessed through the remote, there's a dedicated Netflix button, and you can turn your TV on and off, change inputs, and adjust the TV volume if you so choose. The buttons are tiny, though, so it's hard to manipulate quickly.
This one is clear and simple. If you have a projector with a fixed anamorphic lens, you'll want to cling to your Oppo as if it was the holy grail...at least for now. The Panasonic UB820 does not come equipped with a 21:9 setting, which is essential for those using a scope screen. If, however, your projector has a non-anamorphic or zoom lens, you're good to go with the UB820. Still, the Oppo UDP-203 has movable, fixed, and cropped 21:9 settings to provide maximum flexibility, which means...
When a company more or less goes out of business, despite promises that it will continue to support its product, it's risky to invest in it. Oppo claims it will continue to offer firmware updates for its various players as situations warrant them, but really, how long will that last? When I emailed Oppo a few months ago asking about an HDR10+ firmware update, I was told the company "hoped" such an update would be forthcoming. Today, in fact, Oppo's twitter account replied to a question about the topic thusly:
We are currently exploring the feasibility of bringing hdr10+ within the next few firmware updates.— OPPO Digital (@OPPODIGITAL) September 12, 2018
So future HDR10+ capability is looking more and more certain. But a year from now, two years from now, will Oppo really still try to keep up with the latest technology? I'm sure their Blu-ray players will still be happily humming along, but support and responsiveness might be lacking.
Panasonic seems to be all in with their new line of players, hoping to fill the void left by Oppo and attract their dedicated customer base. They have supplied three firmware updates since I received my player in the beginning of August, adding Dolby Vision support (much earlier than originally announced) and apps for Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, and I expect more will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
At $499, the Panasonic DP-UB820 may seem a bit pricey when compared to other UHD Blu-ray players on the market, but it offers tremendous value for the money, especially when you consider all of its attractive features and fantastic performance. It's also cheaper than Oppo's UDP-203 ever was and certainly is today. A quick check of eBay showed brand new UDP-203s selling for between $1,300 and $1,500, and used ones going for between $500 and $1,250! That's a huge chunk of change for an out-of-print player that might not be all that viable a few years from now. Yes, the Oppo is an equally great UHD 3D Blu-ray player, but if you're in the market for a new player, by all means go with the Panasonic UB820. Your wallet will thank you, and so will your eyes.
Is the Oppo obsolete? No way! And it won't be for quite some time. So I say, if you're a current (and happy) Oppo owner, hang on to your Oppo UDP-203 Blu-ray player and get as much enjoyment out of it as you can over the next couple of years...unless, of course, you want to make some cool, quick cash on the auction market. Taking the leap over to the Panasonic DP-UB820 right now isn't necessary, unless you're actively pining for that nifty HDR Optimizer, black and white tone curve controls, and out-of-the-box HDR10+ capability. Hopefully, Oppo will make good on its promise to continue to support and update its players for the foreseeable future, but have no fear about making the switch to Panasonic. The UB820 is a high-quality, beautifully designed machine that fluidly and crisply displays HDR and Dolby Vision, and makes your standard Blu-rays and DVDs look better than you can imagine. Am I happy I bought one? No. I'm THRILLED I bought one! And honestly, if someone took away my other two Oppos and replaced them with two Panasonic UB820s, I wouldn't miss the Oppos one bit. But since that's not going to happen, I am more than content to keep and use my Oppo players for as long as they support the latest technology and can keep pace with my viewing habits. You only "need" your Oppo if you have an anamorphic projector and care passionately about SACD and DVD-A, but even if those things don't apply or matter to you, there's still no good reason to get rid of your Oppo player. And there's also no reason to fret about the demise of Oppo. The Panasonic UB820 is more than a viable alternative. So when you’re ready, take the plunge and don’t look back. Yes, Oppo is an old friend, but the Panasonic UB820 is my new best friend.
The latest news on all things 4K Ultra HD, blu-ray and Gear.