When it comes to audio/video technologies, there isn't much choice in UHD Blu-ray players. At one end of the spectrum, we have Panasonic's $1,000 UB900 THX certified player (which I previewed earlier this year) with all the bells and whistles targeted for a high-end audience. On the other is Samsung's UBD-K8500 (about $350) that comes with a different sets of bells and whistles targeted for the budget-minded UHD crowd. They both serve their respective target demographics really well. Outside of that, however, we only have Philips, which, as of this writing, costs more than Samsung, yet is very buggy. Then, there are devices like the Xbox One S, a gaming machine that is yet to get a firmware upgrade to do Atmos/DTS:X.
There's a crowd that is waiting to satiate their hunger for a dream UHD Blu-ray player. Enter Oppo Digital's UDP-203. The company offered me a unit for review - reportedly the first to make its way to Canada. That's a good sign. In my years of doing reviews, the companies that actively want their products to be reviewed are usually pretty confident in the products' performance. Would this theory hold true with the UDP-203?
Let's start with build quality. It is solid and heavy. This translates to better vibration control and dissipation, which in turn reduces potential reading error of the discs. It is, however, somewhat of a downgrade from the Oppo BDP-103D, since the 203 only has one HDMI input and no Darbee video processing. The remote layout is very similar to the BDP-103D, minus the Netflix button; the 203 sadly doesn't have any built-in streaming apps whatsoever. So I used a Roku Ultra plugged directly into the HDMI input of the 203.
For UHD BD playback, this player loads any UHD disc at record speed (that varies depending on the title inserted, of course) compared to the other four players on the market. The disc-spin is the quietest amongst them, too. The best part is that at the end of the four-movie marathon, the 203 was still relatively cool to the touch, unlike the rest of the players.
Photo by David Susilo
As for picture performance, I find the colour rendition and accuracy to be on par with the gold-standard Panasonic UB900. Shadow details appear to be more pleasing to my eyes in difficult HDR scenes where there are both very dark and very bright areas within the same frame, such as with many scenes in movies like Suicide Squad and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As for sound through HDMI, I don't know what's causing this phenomenon, but the soundstage is a tad less spacious than with the Panasonic UB900, although still much wider and cohesive than the rest of the players out there. This is very apparent, especially in the Dolby Atmos orchestral soundtrack of 2016's Magnificent Seven and with DTS:X fly-over sound in Independence Day.
For regular Blu-ray playback, as usual, Oppo's performance is top notch with upscaling capability to be visibly better than any display device, with the exception of Sony's Z-series UHD TVs. With movies such as the 2016 version of Tarzan and Bourne Identity, I even prefer the upscaled Blu-ray on the Oppo instead of the UHD Blu-ray version. Alas, the beloved and highly-coveted Darbee Visual Presence processing is not available for this first-generation UHD BD player. Knowing and having witnessed Darbee processing both in regular HD and UHD, I truly hope Oppo will bring back Darbee in the future generations of this player.
Of course, typical of Oppo, you can throw any 5" disc into the player and it will play it back (with the exception of old HD-DVDs and CD-Videos, though it still can play VideoCDs, although those are not listed as one of the formats it can play). It will also play back any type of audio and video files from a hard drive, (minus, from my tests, .ISO files.
All in all, the Oppo 203 is a top-notch universal player that's perfect for enthusiasts and format hoarders like myself, and apparently many others. The first batch of players were sold out within a couple of days of the device's release. The only negatives are the exclusion of Darbee video processing and popular apps such as Netflix, YouTube and Tidal which, as far as apps go, is still forgivable since you can easily just plug in a device like the Roku Ultra, as I did.
The Oppo UDP-203 Blu-ray player sells for US$549 stateside; there's no confirmation on Canadian pricing just yet.
Equipments used for this review:
JVC X750R THX Certified projector
Oppo UDP-203 UHD BD player
Panasonic UB900 THX Certified UHD BD player
Pioneer Elite SC-LX901
Pioneer Elite Andrew Jones Atmos bookshelf speakers (rears)
Pixelgen THX Certified HDMI cables
PSB Image C5 centre speaker
PSB Imagine XA Dolby Enabled modules (fronts)
PSB Subseries 450i subwoofer
SA Aura 30 tower speakers (fronts)
Samsung 8500K UHD BD player
Stewart FilmScreen Studiotek 130 G3 (96", 21:9, viewed from 9ft away)
Torus Power AVR15 Plus power conditioner
Xbox One S UHD BD "player"
Movies used for this review
Bourne Identity (BD and UHD BD)
Independence Day (UHD BD)
Magnificent Seven - 2016 (UHD BD)
Suicide Squad (UHD BD)
Tarzan - 2016 (BD and UHD BD)