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Oppo DV-981HD DVD Player: Use as a DVD-A and SACD Transport via HDMI

November, 2007

Matthew Abel

 

Specifications:

● Codecs: DVD-V, DVD-A, SACD, DivX,
   XviD
● Outputs: HDMI, Component, S-Video,
   Composite, 5.1 Analog Audio
● Up-conversion to 720p, 1080i, 1080p
● Dimensions: 1.6" H x 16.5" W x 10.6" D
● Weight: 5.2 Pounds
● MSRP: $229 USA

Oppo Digital

Introduction

The SACD and DVD-Audio battle was the format war that nobody won. There are a  variety of reasons why neither format caught on with the general public.

I have always felt the main technical issue with these formats was their inability to make a simple digital data connection from the player to the receiver. The great tragedy of the DVD-Audio and SACD story is that we now have a reasonably well developed standard in HDMI that solves most of these connection problems.

Time marches on and now we have two new disc formats for HD video and high-res multi-channel audio. Either Blu-ray or HD-DVD will be the future, but unfortunately it looks like their hardware manufacturers have decided that legacy support for SACD and DVD-Audio is not part of that future.

Thankfully, there is the Oppo DV-981HD, an upscaling DVD player, which supports both DVD-A and SACD playback over its HDMI 1.1 connection. For those keeping track, HDMI 1.1 supports DVD-Audio and multi-channel PCM, HDMI 1.2 supports native DSD for SACD, and HDMI 1.3 can handle a bitstream output for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. The Oppo handles SACD by converting it to PCM and then outputting it over its HDMI connection. (The 980H and 970HD will also do this.)

The Design

The Oppo DVD players have earned an enviable reputation for their excellent video performance at very reasonable prices. However, their most recent players, like the DV-981HD reviewed here, have added some very impressive audio features. As a long time supporter of high-res multi-channel audio, the Oppo player's DVD-Audio and SACD support over HDMI was very exciting to me. When I got things set up, I found the Oppo worked wonderfully as a DVD-Audio or SACD transport via its HDMI output jack.

Feeding high-res PCM from the Oppo to the Yamaha RX-V2700 through HDMI made for an excellent combination. I was able to use the Yamaha's digital room correction, bass management, and excellent D/A converters without degrading the signal with an unnecessary A/D step.

In Use

I listened to a number of DVD-Audio discs, including the Beatles' Love and discs from the Talking Heads Brick box set, and they all sounded great. On the SACD side, I enjoyed a number of very good classical discs on the Oppo, like the recordings of the Mahler symphonies recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as the wonderful RCA Living Presence remasters.

It does not take one long with this material to realize that the Oppo is an excellent and transparent transport for DVD-Audio and SACD. In addition, like Kris Deering, I found the Oppo to be a great upscaling DVD player.

Operationally, the DV-981HD is a very effective and responsive DVD player. Navigating DVD-Audio discs on many older players was painfully slow, but the Oppo is quite swift with these discs. SACD tracks are accessed using a folder system, similar to digital audio files. This is a bit different, but the Oppo system is simple to use and effective. The only minor quirk I could find was that the hour place for the time display is a little too close to the chapter display on the front of the player, which can be somewhat confusing.

Conclusions

Over the years, I have purchased numerous discs on both SACD and DVD-Audio, and I continue to purchase such discs when the option presents itself. Ultimately, I hope that Blu-ray and HD DVD will both offer a rich catalog of multi-channel music in their supported lossless format, but that reality is some time off.

The simple fact is that one can get an Oppo DV-981HD today and enjoy a wealth of high-res multi-channel music, by using it as a DVD-A and SACD digital transport, with your receiver's or processor's DACs doing the decoding, and exploiting all of the digital room correction and bass management technologies modern receiver/processors offer. I was very happy with the performance of the Oppo DV-981HD and I'm keeping it as my main DVD-V, DVD-Audio, and SACD player. For $229, it is a no-brainer purchase.
 

- Matthew Abel -

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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