HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



December
2006

Reviewed by
Roger Kanno
REVIEWERS' CHOICE



Oppo Digital

DV-970HD
Universal Audio/Video Player

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: DV-970HD

Price: $149 USD
Dimensions: 16.5"W x 1.6"H x 10"D
Weight: 5 pounds

Warranty: One year parts and labor

Features

  • HDMI 1.1 output
  • 720p, 1080i video upscaling
  • Component, S-video, composite video outputs

Features (cont'd)
  • Coaxial, optical digital, 5.1-channel analog audio outputs
  • Built-in Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS decoders
  • Supported formats: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, MP3, Kodak Picture, JPEG, DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW, CD-R/RW, DivX
  • 4-in-1 card reader, USB port
  • NTSC, PAL compatible
  • User-upgradeable via CD-ROM firmware
  • Removable power cord
  • HDMI cable included

Oppo Digital’s DVD players have been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. Their OPDV971H has received rave reviews, including one from our resident video guru, Wes Marshall, in his "On Home Theater" column on SoundStage! A/V. When you consider that the OPDV971H also includes Faroudja’s state-of-the-art DCDi deinterlacing, and surprisingly good video scaling via its DVI output, and DVD-Audio capability, all for only $199, it’s actually quite amazing. Wes also found that it made a very good digital transport for his CDs. In fact, the OPDV971H is such an amazing player and such an incredible value that several Home Theater & Sound reviewers now use it in their own systems.

So when Oppo released the DV-970HD universal audio/video player at the even lower price of $149, I couldn’t help but wonder: What was the catch? It all seemed too good to be true, but at that price I couldn’t resist -- I ordered one from an online dealer.

Romulus and Remus

The DV-970HD looks similar to the OPDV971H; its edges are more angular, but it has the same compact, slimline design. It won’t be mistaken for one of the massively overbuilt players from Esoteric, but for such an inexpensive product, it’s solid and nicely built.

Not surprisingly, the DV-970HD’s front panel has only a basic LED display and buttons for Power, Play/Pause, Stop, and Open/Close. That’s it. The remote controls all of the necessary functions and is relatively easy to use. Like most remotes, this one has many small buttons that look alike, but its logical layout makes it fairly easy to use.

Around back are the requisite outputs for component video, S-video, and composite video. Its audio outputs are coaxial and optical digital, 5.1-channel analog, and analog two-channel. Most important, there’s an HDMI connector, and Oppo even includes an HDMI cable -- a nice touch that will save you some money. The connectors are of adequate quality but are spaced quite closely together, which will make it difficult to attach very large or locking RCA connectors to the multichannel outputs -- but this is usual for players at or near this price. On the front panel is a card reader that accepts MS, SD, MMC, and SM memory cards, and a USB port that, I suspect, is provided mainly for viewing digital picture files.

Other than the Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition video formats, the DV-970HD is compatible with nearly every type of optical disc: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD CD, Kodak Picture, DivX, CD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, and DVD+R DL. I confirmed that it would display JPEG pictures and play back MPEG-1 video files, as well as VCDs and even the obscure CD+G format. The DV-970HD can also automatically detect and play back both PAL and NTSC DVDs.

The built-in scaler provides resolutions up to 720p and 1080i, and 480i is supported through the HDMI output -- a useful feature if you want to take advantage of the high-quality deinterlacing and scaling capabilities of an outboard video processor. Both the Arcam DiVA DV79, and FMJ DV29 which I recently reviewed, can output 480i via HDMI, but surprisingly few DVD players support this feature. Like most upconverting DVD players presented with the CSS-encrypted video data found on most prerecorded DVDs, the DV-970HD can send a maximum resolution of 480p through its component-video outputs.

The DV-970HD’s menu system and user interface are functional if not particularly polished, and all of the usual audio and video settings are easily accessible. Some of the less common settings provided include gamma and color space for the picture, and adjustments for Dolby Pro Logic II. Individual channel levels can be set from -10dB to +10dB in increments of 0.5dB. My only real complaint about the operation of the DV-970HD concerned the delay settings for the surround channels. Distances are adjustable in increments of 4", but don’t allow settings where the surround speakers are closer to the seating position than the main speakers. The trouble is, in many rooms -- including my own -- the listener is closer to the surrounds than to the mains. Fortunately, I use the DSP of my Anthem D1 surround processor for channel delays and bass management, so this was not an issue.

As with all DVD players compliant with HDMI 1.1, the DV-970HD can output high-resolution multichannel digital audio from DVD-A discs. It can also convert the DSD signal from SACDs to high-resolution multichannel PCM for transmission over HDMI. (I didn’t have on hand an HDMI 1.1-compliant receiver or processor to test this.) And I discovered a bonus: Through its S/PDIF output, the DV-970HD passed a 96kHz stereo PCM signal from every DVD-A I tried.

Speaking of DVD-Audio, my sample of the DV-970HD wouldn’t at first play the DVD-A sides of two Talking Heads DualDiscs, Speaking in Tongues [Rhino 812276453] and Little Creatures [Rhino 812276454]. But with the OPDV971H, Oppo established a practice of supporting their products with firmware updates, and the DV-970HD is no different. The new player’s first firmware update addressed this problem, and it now plays the DVD-A sides of these DualDiscs.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

The DV-970HD may be a budget DVD player, but it wasn’t out of place in my high-quality multichannel home-theater system. The player’s video performance was outstanding. The picture was sharp and detailed without looking artificial. Colors were deep and rich but never oversaturated. Overall, the DV-970HD’s video performance was commendable. It performed well on most of the video torture tests from the HQV Benchmark test DVD, but exhibited some jaggies and video noise on the most demanding ones. But in everyday use, these minor shortcomings were hardly noticeable.

Watching the forgettable but wonderfully photographed Driven, I was mesmerized by the minute details visible in the stands as the camera panned past the crowds. Colors were bright and vibrant in daylight shots, but there was plenty of shadow detail in dark scenes. The dazzling colors of the cars and the drivers’ racing suits were simply mesmerizing. Switching to a darker scene from a more substantial film, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was just as impressive. I usually use chapter 36 of Fellowship as a test for bass response, but with the DV-970HD I was captivated by the video. The camera moves quickly and the scene is dark, but individual Orcs were readily distinguishable among the hundreds massing in the huge, writhing horde.

Exceptional DVDs such as Cars looked spectacular -- the illusion of sunlight reflecting off the brightly colored CGI cars was stunningly realistic. Even dreary-looking scenes from Closer were crystal clear, the overall picture brought to life by tiny details, even in the backgrounds. But it wasn’t only the minute details and accurate colors that added to my enjoyment of movies -- the naturalness of the smooth, filmlike image resulted in my long-term enjoyment of this player’s video performance.

Setting the DV-970HD’s internal scaler to output resolutions of 720p or 1080i was a bit of a double-edged sword. While the picture detail seemed subjectively better at 720p, and slightly more so at 1080i, there were definitely increasing amounts of video noise. This was readily apparent on video tests from HQV Benchmark, but less noticeable with DVD movies. I generally preferred the more detailed look of the picture at the 1080i setting, but occasionally found the increased video noise distracting. The features visible in the faces of Scott and Dr. Jean Grey in chapter 5 of X-Men: The Last Stand were strikingly real, but there was a grain in the mist and fog surrounding Alkali Lake that detracted from the otherwise pleasing picture.

Wolf whistle

The DV-970HD’s digital audio performance was superb. Film soundtracks sounded extremely detailed yet relaxed. I could hear deep into complex, layered mixes without the harshness often associated with movie soundtracks played at high levels. In addition to plenty of loud explosions, the wonderful sound design of We Were Soldiers features subtle directional cues, and a musical score that’s beautifully recorded and skillfully integrated into the mix. Individual Foley effects seemed to originate from all around the room, with excellent lateral imaging at various depths within the soundstage. There was even a sense of height in the front hemisphere. And when the inevitable explosions arrived, the sound was just jarring enough to be realistic without becoming irritating.

CDs sounded excellent through the DV-970HD’s digital output. Listening to my favorite CDs was always a joy -- in fact, I spent much of the review period enjoying the sound of the DV-970HD without even thinking about its exceptional video performance. Similar to the DV-970HD’s playback of multichannel movie soundtracks, CDs sounded clear and detailed without ever becoming fatiguing. Neil Young’s "After the Gold Rush," as covered by k.d. lang on her Hymns of the 49th Parallel [Nonesuch 79847], was stunning -- there was just a touch of sibilance in her closely miked vocal, which hung palpably between the front speakers, and the piano and guitars were superb. The sound was balanced and neutral in the best possible way.

Achilles’ heel

The DV-970HD’s single weakness was the quality of the sound from its analog outputs. Considering the player’s low cost, this wasn’t surprising -- most inexpensive DVD players don’t sound particularly good through their analog outputs. The Oppo’s playback of CDs, DVD-As, and SACDs actually sounded OK -- all the little details were there, as they’d been with the digital output -- but the sound lacked drive. The drumbeat in "Burning Down the House," from Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues, was slightly loose, without much punch. Even the incessant bass in "Swamp" was a bit light. The result was a nicely transparent sound that was detailed but not bright. Ultimately, this lack of body somewhat detracted from my enjoyment of the music.

Leader of the pack

I didn’t have an Oppo OPDVH-971H on hand to compare with the DV-970HD, but there are several key differences between the players that A/V enthusiasts should be aware of. The DV-970HD adds SACD playback and an HDMI 1.1 output that supports 480i output. The OPDVH-971H does not support 480i through its DVI output, and uses a Genesis-Faroudja chipset for scaling and deinterlacing. Faroudja DCDi is thought to provide some of the best deinterlacing available, but has also been reported to cause "macroblocking" with some displays.

In almost every respect, the Oppo DV-970HD easily bested the video and audio performance of my Pioneer DV-45A universal player ($350). The Pioneer has a slightly soft but pleasant picture with colors that can sometimes seem a bit oversaturated, especially the reds. The Oppo’s sharper, more neutral picture was just flat-out better. I thought the Pioneer was a good digital audio transport, but again, the Oppo easily outclassed it. Not only was the Oppo’s sound more detailed, it was smoother and richer. Voices had less sibilance, and bass was tighter and better defined. I could go on, but the bottom line is this: The Oppo DV-970HD sounded more like a high-quality digital audio transport than a budget DVD player.

The only area of performance in which the Pioneer DV-45A surpassed the Oppo DV-970HD was in the audio quality of its analog outputs. The Pioneer’s sound was fuller, the Oppo’s a bit lean in comparison. Through the Pioneer, the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues DVD-A had a more satisfying weight. CDs and SACDs were also clean and clear through the Oppo. The vocals on Peter Gabriel’s "Here Comes the Flood," from his Shaking the Tree CD, [Geffen 0694936282], were pristine -- but again, when compared to the Pioneer, the Oppo had a slight leanness when playing, say, "Sledgehammer" or the disc’s title track.

Best in show

Oppo has another winner with the DV-970HD -- it is now my reference DVD player. When I used it as a digital audio/video transport, I found its performance equal to that of many far more expensive DVD players. To put things in perspective: The purchase price of the Oppo DV-970HD represents less than 1% of the total value of my system, and only 50% of the cost of the power cord I plug it in with. Yet its performance is commensurate with that of the other components in my system. Don’t let its paltry price and unassuming looks fool you -- the Oppo DV-970HD is a killer!

Review System
Speakers - Paradigm Reference Signature S8 (mains), Signature C3 (center), Servo-15 v.2 (subwoofer), Axiom EP600 v2 (subwoofer), Mirage Omni 260 (surrounds)
Preamplifier-Processor - Anthem Statement D1
Amplifiers - Bel Canto REF1000s (mains), eVo6 (center, surrounds)
Source - Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal A/V player
Display Device - JVC 34" direct-view CRT
Cables - Analysis Plus, Audio Magic, ESP
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Oppo Digital Inc.
453 Ravendale Dr., Suite D
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone: (650) 961-1118
Fax: (650) 961-1119

E-mail: service@oppodigital.com
Website: www.oppodigital.com


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