OPPO UDP-203 4K Blu-ray Player Review

OPPO Digital is an electronics manufacturer with an interesting history. When large, digitally-driven flat-panel displays were becoming common, OPPO joined other manufacturers and brought to market “upconverting” DVD players which scaled 480i and 576i DVD content to HD resolution. The rationale back then was that in-TV processing left something to be desired, and there were benefits of allowing deinterlacing chips to talk directly to the MPEG decoder in the player.

OPPO UDP-203

Although their first attempt was found to be standard in terms of performance (after being analyzed by none other than Stacey Spears and Don Munsil’s DVD Benchmark), what was notable was the company’s response. OPPO took all of the findings, corrected the performance, and released a downloadable firmware update which turned their previously standard DVD player into a star performer. In turn, this caught the attention of videophile users eager to squeeze every drop of image quality possible out of their existing DVD library.

Although manufacturers improving performance with firmware updates doesn’t sound notable to us in 2017, it was absolutely not the norm in the mid-2000s, where any requests for improvement, assuming they were listened to at all, usually ended up in future models. When Blu-ray Disc came of age, OPPO (after waiting out the ridiculous format war) appeared to reposition themselves at the higher end of the market, with more substantially-built, sleeker machines.

Now that the Blu-ray Disc Format Extension to support Ultra HD is here, OPPO have moved quickly in producing a player which supports the new discs. At $550 US and a considerably pricier £650 in the UK, OPPO’s UDP-203 is priced at the higher end of the spectrum – although we still feel these prices, in isolation, are not too unreasonable given the AV quality possible with UHD BD. It’s definitely pricier than competing 4K Blu-ray players, some of which we feel aren’t worth considering for various reasons, and others (such as Panasonic’s excellent range) which are.

The OPPO 203’s current unique selling point, however, lies with the fact that it will shortly be compatible with the new Dolby Vision HDR system, discs of which will be hitting shelves soon. By comparison, most other competing players will not be upgradable in this way, although they’ll still play Dolby Vision discs in HDR, just without the extra benefits of Dolby Vision – however sizeable, or un-sizeable, those might end up being.

As with all of OPPO’s high-def disc players, the UDP203 has impeccable build quality, which doesn’t do anything for the quality of the (digital) AV output, but certainly doesn’t hurt. (The premium design is likely to improve the quality of the analog audio outputs, if you’re one of the users going that route, although it should be noted that OPPO are also introducing the UDP-205 with even higher-end analog circuitry).

As we previously alluded to, in terms of picture quality and brand heritage, OPPO’s main competition is with Panasonic. Out of the other major providers of disc players, Panasonic has consistently provided tamper-free playback (after proper setup, at least) and continues to demonstrate an understanding of the fine art of leaving high quality video alone. (For comparison, Sony recently got themselves off of our ‘Blu-ray Player clean processing list’ with undefeatable noise reduction nonsense in some recent BD player models, and after introducing the same thing in their projectors, our confidence in them is shot in this area).

As a result, throughout this review, we’ll compare the OPPO UDP-203 with Panasonic’s DMP-UB900 player, since we feel right now, these are the best of the best. Once again though, OPPO’s 203 is Dolby Vision-capable and the UB900 is not and almost certainly never will be – which for many readers will seal the deal in OPPO’s favor.

Remote control

The remote is similar to previous OPPO players, which is fine by us. It’s big and has tactile dots to ease fumbling around in the dark, and has a cool white backlight to all of the buttons, except for the four colored BD-Java ones which those discs sometimes use for adding bookmarks. It’s not the slickest-looking device ever, and the basic all-caps Arial typeface almost feels like it belongs to OPPO’s less aesthetically appealing players of 10 years ago, but most importantly, it’s a joy to use, especially compared to the slimmed down remote that Samsung shipped their UHD player with. Not only that, but its plentiful buttons provide easy access to many of the player’s most important functions.

Settings

In brief, the notable settings in the UDP-203’s menus:

  • A subtitle shift function, which allows the subtitles to be moved back into the active picture area on discs that (irritatingly) are authored to have the subtitle text in the letterbox area of widescreen movies. Especially useful or owners of scope-ratio projection setups, but handy also for owners of FALD (Full Array Local Dimming) LED LCDs, where white text on a black background results in ugly backlight blooming, especially with HDR. Both OPPO and Panasonic’s units have this feature.
  • The on-screen display can also be shifted to accommodate wider-than-16:9 ratios.
  • There’s a [Picture Adjustment] submenu, the contents of which should usually be left alone (all of the controls come set to 0, which we congratulate OPPO for). The Sharpness control in here is extremely subtle and targets only the high frequencies, so you could actually turn this up to its full position and do no real damage. For an indication of how subtle it is, we noted that it didn’t even create visible artefacts on a Luma Zone Plate, which normally turns into a mess of moiré when typical sharpening sliders are moved even one click.
  • The [HDR Setting] submenu allows you to force HDR output on, just in case the player and the display together cannot correctly trigger HDR playback. This happened to us on a few occasions, so we greatly appreciate this feature. This menu also lets you turn HDR Off and downconvert HDR content to SDR. Most interestingly, there’s a “Strip Metadata” function which promises to “Strip off HDR metadata but preserve color gamut”. To start with we left the player in the default “Auto” setting.
  • The same submenu also has a [Target Luminance] setting which allows the look of the HDR-to-SDR conversion to be altered.
  • [Output Resolution] on its own isn’t notable, but the “Source Direct” option is. This always outputs video in its native format from the player, so your 480i DVDs go out as 480i, your 1080p BDs go out as 1080p, etc. As with all of the OPPO’s video processing features, this can be adjusted during playback, making for easy comparisons between the scaling (and deinterlacing) capabilities of the player versus those in your AV receiver or display device. In fact, for educational purposes alone, OPPO’s players are indispensable in this regard. In 2017, when it comes to 1080p especially, the differences between in-player and in-TV scaling are likely to be subtle, but this is a neat feature for videophiles nonetheless.
  • The [Color Depth] submenu lets you force video output in 12-bit, 10-bit, or 8-bit. The default “Auto” setting asks the display what it can handle and reacts accordingly. We found that there are some displays which do a poor job of processing 12-bit input and introduce obvious posterization/tone jump artefacts, so if you have one of those, you can instruct the player to output the native 10-bit video from the UHD BD. Presumably, this will also convert 12-bit Dolby Vision titles to 10-bit for these displays, hopefully via dithering, although without any of these discs on the market yet, we can’t check.
  • There’s a [DVD 24p Conversion] feature which attempts to detect 3:2 pulldown content on NTSC DVD and output real 24p to the display.
  • The rest of the menus concern general settings like network connection, firmware, and also allow analog audio users to adjust settings specific to that type of setup.

Subjective Impressions

Ultra HD Blu-ray

We had a look at some of the current crop of Ultra HD Blu-rays on the OPPO 203, and struggled to find anything to write about, which as far as disc players go, is always a good sign. As far as we can ascertain with our currently limited suite of UHD (ultra high-definition) patterns, the player was decoding and outputting images and sound from disc correctly. We used the Rec.2020 color bars on Samsung’s UHD BD calibration disc and the Red, Green and Blue-only mode on our display, and verified that the color luminance levels were correct.

For comparison, one of the cheapest 4K Blu-ray players on the market today, Microsoft’s Xbox One S, gets this wrong (at the time of writing, May 2017). The game console decodes all content to RGB, which on its own isn’t an issue, but it does so with the wrong matrix, resulting in incorrect color reproduction. OPPO’s player, like most on the market, outputs the video in its native Y/Cb/Cr space, meaning that the color decoding step here is performed by the display. Although the console does have an option called “Allow YCC 4:2:2″ in its menus, this appears only to convert the internally decoded RGB back to Y/Cb/Cr; the erroneous color decoding step is still performed beforehand. (Thanks to Florian Freidrich for both the color bars test pattern via the Samsung test disc, and the tip-off).

Click on the options below to compare player’s color decoding:
OPPO UDP-203 | Microsoft Xbox One S

OPPO 203 color decoding

Above is an interactive comparison with a cyan-heavy shot (timecode 00:05:20 on episode one of the Planet Earth II UHD BD) with the HDR10 color bars overlaid in the bottom corner. We deliberately chose a cyan-heavy scene here, because as you can see from the differences between the color bars, this is where the color decoding error is greatest. A predominantly red scene showed almost no difference at all. At first glance, we were surprised at how little the error in hue was in real content relative to the color bars, but the longer we looked, the more damning the effects of the console’s incorrect decoding became: the entire scene became more monochromatic, with all of the water appearing in one tone. The OPPO, like nearly all players, correctly reveals all of the subtle color variations from the disc, showing a wider mix of blues and greens. That reminder again: the Xbox One S is an outlier here, in that it forces the video to be output in RGB mode. Nearly all players on the market, like the OPPO, leave the color decoding job to the display.

During testing, we found ourselves greatly appreciating the option to force HDR output on. Connected directly to a Samsung 65JS9500, admittedly now one of the older HDR-capable televisions, we found that HDR output sometimes didn’t automatically trigger. If videophile users have to put in effort to guarantee HDR output, what hope is there for non-expert users – who might be sitting watching downconverted SDR and be none the wiser? Accordingly, we greatly appreciate OPPO’s option to force the correct mode.

Another useful feature of the OPPO UDP203 is accessed by holding down the “Info” button on the remote. This opens an information window with a variety of data about the currently playing content, most usefully, it has an onscreen readout for the minimum and maximum luminance levels in the HDR metadata. So, the player lets you see which titles were mastered for 1000 cd/m2 and which wre mastered for 4000 cd/m2 – or any variations to those trends. (Thanks Kevin Miller for the tip). Oddly, one disc we sampled, Planet Earth II, didn’t provide this info, making us wonder if its HDR metadata was somehow handled differently during authoring.

1080p and 1080i Blu-ray

I had a subjective look at some Blu-ray titles on the market that I personally mastered, as well as familiar titles from Hollywood, and was happy with what I saw. As expected from an OPPO player, there was no behind-your-back image manipulation nonsense to be seen. Other manufacturers sometimes have hidden ‘surprises’, even if their on-screen menus tell lies to the contrary (a good number of them don’t seem to understand what “Off” means) – but OPPO’s consistency in providing unadulterated picture quality remains on show here.

In terms of luma scaling from 1920×1080 to 3840×2160, which is the most important part of upscaling, there’s really nothing to complain about. As is typical for video products, the algorithm the UDP-203 uses to interpolate pixels and create a higher resolution output favors drawing sharper edges with a tiny bit of ringing, rather than blurred ones with none (a decision we agree with when it comes to photorealistic video). All high frequency content present in the 1920×1080 signal is preserved and displayed in the upscaled output, resulting in crisp, clear video. Test patterns and other synthetic content displayed with a bare minimum of ringing and/or aliasing. We do still think Panasonic’s additional “Edge Correction” step found on their UB900 player is excellent, since it can be useful for reducing the tiny ringing that sometimes results where the edge of the active picture area meets black letterbox bars, but only extreme videophile users with very large projection screens would notice the difference with this, and even then, the difference is subtle.

For the less important but still noteworthy chroma upscaling, the OPPO 203 also does a good job. All Blu-ray players must upscale chroma on all displays, because the 4:2:0 chroma subsampling method used by DVD, BD and UHD BD stores the colored layers of the picture at half the resolution of the luminance. Panasonic frequently touts the superior quality of its own proprietary chroma upsampling method, and it’s true that this can result in higher color detail, again most notably on large projection-sized setups. For example, the red and blue diagonal lines on the Spears & Munsil test disc’s Color Space checker appeared less jagged on Panasonic’s UB900 when compared to the OPPO UDP-203. On the other hand, Panasonic’s extra chroma processing resulted in the side-effect of false-colored ringing in flatter areas like color bars (or for a real-world example, logos), whereas OPPO’s simpler chroma scaling did not. Once again though, on a television-sized display, you’d struggle to see these differences with 99% of content, and both methods have their strengths and weaknesses.

In terms of 1080i, OPPO’s UDP203, as usual for the company, retrieved full vertical resolution from all of the cadence tests on the Spears & Munsil’s battery of tests. Most of these tests are inconsequential for 99% of cases, since the majority of Blu-ray titles, thankfully, are encoded as 1080p and no film mode detection has to be done. The exception here is titles mastered at 25 frames per second for the European/ Australian markets (normally discs of BBC TV shows), which have to be encoded on Blu-ray as 1080i due to a BD spec limitation. The standard of engineering demonstrated by OPPO’s player puts it in a good position to retrieve full vertical resolution from such discs.

Other Features

The [Subtitle Adjustment] submenu appears to allow the user to change the text size, color, outline style, and position of the subtitles. Most of these controls won’t do anything, since 99.9% of Blu-ray Discs are mastered using pre-rendered graphic subtitles, rather than text that’s formatted on the fly to the user’s specifications. (Text subtitles were actually dropped from the UHD Blu-ray format, probably because of how under-used they were on normal BD). As a result, only the Positioning feature will function most of the time. As we mentioned, this will be useful for owners of Scope-ratio projection screens when playing discs that have the subtitles authored in the letterbox area.

We discussed the picture adjustments already, which allow you to add an offset to the Black Level and White Level coming from the disc. There’s also a Hue control, which is technically pointless on a non-Composite video system. There’s also a [Noise Reduction] control, which you should leave at 0, unless you are some kind of video pervert who enjoys making pristine new 4K film scans look like ratchety old telecine transfers from the mid-1990s. That’s not a slight against OPPO’s processing, and joking aside, it could perhaps be useful for some especially poorly mastered DVDs or recordings from highly compressed sources that have no grain structure left to preserve – but highly detailed film transfers are best left alone. Another possible use for it is in conjunction with the HDR to SDR downconversion mode: taking video encoded for HDR with the SMPTE ST.2084 EOTF and attempting to display it on the SDR system can result in noise becoming visible, so NR’ing this in player in this case could make sense.

We should note that during the review process, the player could sometimes become unresponsive if we left it doing nothing for a while. That’s more of an issue during reviewing where we sometimes leave a test pattern on screen while writing up notes, and shouldn’t affect users in most cases.

There’s also a very, very minor bug where the positioning of Interactive Graphics layer (which draws the main menu screens on some Blu-ray Discs) moves around between screens, but we doubt that anyone will care.

Conclusion

With all of the above in mind, we feel that the OPPO UDP-203’s US price tag of $549 is very fair. For most of our readers who are in the UK, the effect of the weakend pound – the £649 price tag – will be harder to swallow, especially given that Panasonic’s cheaper DMP-UB900 is just as good (or even a tiny bit better) in terms of AV quality. Of course, its lack of Dolby Vision support is likely going to turn into a bigger factor, which should still see the pricier OPPO win the hearts and minds of AV enthusiasts on that side of the ocean.

In conclusion, we like the OPPO 203 a lot. Simply put, it works properly. As we expected from the brand, there are no picture-distorting hijinks going on behind the scenes, and the UDP203 simply does its job of accurately decoding DVD, BD and UHD BD. Its future-readiness, exemplary build quality, and high usability (thanks to its fully-featured remote) also pleased us a great deal.

Highly Recommended

4 comments

  1. “Video pervert”, lol

  2. hello,

    which is better according to you the new oppo udp-205 or the new cambridge native 4k player ?
    kind regards,

    frans callebaut

  3. You made no mention of streaming, playing content from connected USB hard drives or as an audio player.
    Any views on this please?

  4. The chroma samling issue you describe here and in your video, is that a software issue, and if so, do you know if it has been addressed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>