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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [03.12.07]
Manufactured by: OPPO Digital


Keep those DVDs!

Okay so by now, you have probably at least partially hopped onto the HDTV bandwagon. Decent HDTV displays have reached all-time low prices making them applicable to the mainstream market. HDTV content is becoming more readily available, with HD networks and Pay-Per-Views. HD gaming is huge now, with the 2 most powerful consoles offering gaming in resolutions no less than 1280x720 or 1920x1080.

However, the movie format war wages on. Thanks to pretty good sales of the Playstation 3 and more exclusive studios (Walt Disney Pictures, MGM/20th Century Fox, and of course Sony Pictures, while Microsoft has Universal - the same company that demanded a huge cut of each Zune sold), Blu-Ray has been outpacing HD-DVD all year so far by a margin of about 65:35. However, there is as of yet no indication that Blu-Ray is definitely going to win the war. A lot of people are simply refusing to buy Sony media because of some major screw-ups in the past.

If you have the beginnings of a decent HDTV setup but haven't decided on which format to drop $400-500 on and then start rebuilding your movie library, but would rather be able to enjoy more than what your collection of standard definition DVDs offer, there is still hope...

DVD Upconverting

DVD Upconverting has been around for a while, but usually reserved for only high end players. Nowadays, you can find upconverting DVD players for as little as $200-400 from the likes of Panasonic, Denon, Sony, and Oppo Digital. Quality varies, depending on the processors being used however.

I should make it clear that even if you're using a standard DVD player outputting to 480i or 480p with an HDTV, the image is still (obviously) being upconverted at some point, to match the native resolution of the TV. So if you have a 1080p display, the picture being output by your $60 Sony 480p DVD player will still be 'stretched' to use up the 1920x1080 display. Unfortunately, not all HDTV's are created equal, and upscaled results will vary wildly. As I mentioned earlier, HDTVs are coming down in price, but unfortunately not all of them are great. If your TV doesn't do a good job of scaling or deinterlacing, having the DVD player do the work is even more important.

Oppo DV-981HD

If you haven't looked at buying a DVD player since upgrading to HDTV, you probably haven't heard of Oppo yet. But for fans of upscaling DVD players, Oppo is the most popular brand by far. This is because for just around $200, you can get the DV-981HD. This may sound like a lot for a mere DVD player, but consider the main features:

  • Upconverts up to 1080p - The resolution of NTSC DVDs is 720x480 interlaced. The Oppo DV-981HD will upscale that to any HDTV resolution - 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. It also works as a standard 480p player.
  • HDMI connection - The DV-981HD maintains a pure digital connection by way of HDMI. Analog connections are available in S-Video and Composite (sadly, Component video is not available). Upconverting is not available on these connections. To top it all off, a 6 foot HDMI certified high-quality cable is included in the package. Now you don't have to choose between buying an overpriced cable at the store, or waiting a week for your decently priced cable to arrive in the mail from an online order. The Oppo is ready to go, right out of the box!
  • High-end video processor - The Oppo DV-981HD uses a Faroudja DCDi processor for decoding, deinterlacing, and upconverting. This is the heart of this particular player, and it wouldn't be as good as it is if not for this processor.
  • Multiple formats - In addition to DVD, the DV-981HD can play SACD and DVD-Audio, making it a great universal solution for audio enthusiasts. Unlike other players in its class, it DOES output these formats via the HDMI connection (an HDMI 1.1 compliant receiver is required) for a full digital connection.
  • Even more formats - Oppo has taken care of the high-end formats like SACD and DVD-A, but it also supports CD Audio, MP3, WMA, and DivX/XviD. Basically, if it comes on a CD or DVD, the DV-981HD supports it. Hell, it even supports HDCD!
  • Can easily be set as a Region-Free player (in the Setup menu, press 9210 and select Region 0)
Faroudja DCDi

Being an upconverting DVD player isn't always enough - the material also needs to be deinterlaced properly, and it helps to be slightly enhanced to make full use of the higher resolution image. Otherwise, the output won't be much different from letting the TV do the upscaling work.

DCDi stands for Directional Correlational Deinterlacing, and its origins trace back to 1997, when Faroudja designed equipment to allow broadcasters to upconvert current standard interlaced material during the transition to HDTV. We're talking about equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars here... Now DCDi is available in $200 DVD players, and it is widely known as being one of the best deinterlacing algorithms out there. DCDi works on material shot on video.

For footage shot on film, Faroudja was the first to develop and patent 3:2 pulldown detection. Without going too much into detail, film is converted to NTSC by displaying 4 frames of the original film for each 5 frames shown on an NTSC display. This is because film is recorded at 24 frames per second, but displayed on NTSC devices at 29.97 frames per second. Unless you already have a very high quality DVD player, you have probably noticed 'combing' or 'juddering' which are the two main artifacts of 3:2 pulldown. The Oppo DV-981HD does a better job of handling this, thanks to the Faroudja chip inside. For more details on 3:2 pulldown and other forms of telecine, refer to this Wikipedia article.

So as you can see, for around $200 you are getting much more than just a DVD player. Obviously the #1 feature is the upconverting, but there are enough features to make it stand out above others even with upconverting notwithstanding.

Let's take a look at the DV-981HD as a player itself, before getting into playback quality, etc.

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