Blu-ray players used to be expensive, but now it’s common to find name-brand players for under $200 touting every feature you can think of. So what makes Oppo’s BDP-103 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player a better choice when it has a $500 price tag? It comes down to the quality of the electronics that are providing the features, not what can be listed off on a sales sheet.
I started by hoisting the BDP-103 with one hand in order to carry it over by the TV and then thought better because it’s pretty heavy. But the “build” does more than contribute weight; it makes for a more stable platform for playing video. People seem to forget that, unlike digital, a Blu-ray disc is going to be spinning around inside the player which must absorb vibrations and minimize “interference” issues. The BDP-103’s full sized chassis handles this exceedingly well, as I placed a penny on top and it never “shimmered” while a disc was spinning. Also the inside components aren’t tightly cramped together which helps to avoid electro-magnetic issues between the power supply and circuity that can result in poor video/audio performance (the video circuitry can be turned off for playing audio alone, not something found on most BD players).
The BDP-103 remote handles the controls in a straightforward fashion but again it is better built and heavier and I would guess less likely to break if dropped a foot or two like one of those “standard” plastic BD remotes. The Home screen provides two rows of functionality: the top row selects a disc or video, music or photos coming off of external storage (there’s two USB ports on the front and one is MHL compatible). The bottom role has the “Smart TV” choices like Netflix or YouTube, Pandora or the web browser. There’s nothing flashy about making a selection — instead the menus react to the remote immediately and correctly. Pick Netflix and it comes up. Pick Pandora and the same happens. No lag time at all. In fact I used this exclusively over that of the many times slower “Smart TV” functions of the HDTV the BDP-103 was connected to.
Video coming off Netflix looked very good, as did any video the BDP-103 was generating from the Internet. And video coming off a thumb drive in 720p (The Walking Dead) looked exceedingly detailed and rich — partly helped along by tweaking the BDP-103’s color and contrast settings. One very cool thing is that the BDP-103 “looks” at video files for meta-data which is then displayed in the menu. So when I was selecting Dead from the thumb drive, I had a picture of the season right there on the screen as a visual indicator.
But what you’re really paying for is what the video looks like when the Blu-ray disc is outputting 1080p HD. And it’s just plain superb. I ran 2 Blu-ray discs, in both 2D and 3D, and couldn’t find a single thing to complain about.
Frankie Go Boom/Blu-ray disc: This comedic film let me concentrate on the actors (instead of worrying about lots of explosions and special effects). The shading and color palette of the faces was excellent; no sheen to the skin due to banding, and I could even make out lipstick highlights. At times the texture of the clothing was almost “too” detailed — as I could make out the weave of a men’s jacket that reminded me of how standard-def would make TV announcer’s suit jackets seem to “shimmer.”
Oz The Great And Powerful/Blu-ray disc: Oz has a lot of special effects mixed in with the live action, so I looked for demarcation between people and the SFX that would destroy my suspension of belief in the fantasy unfolding. In this case I did find it helpful to slightly adjust the contrast level on the TV, but otherwise had no need to avail myself of any of the digital enhancement features on the Oppo (in general I always prefer not to use these). Once this was done, the blending of the real/created looked spot on: colors were about as “pure” as I could hope for and there was no color cast on the highlights. Detail was also spot-on, especially in the early balloon sequence as it moves through a otherworldly landscape filled with colors and fantastical shading, aided by a great deal of lens flare — all of which really made the scene more effective than it would have been otherwise and which was reproduced with a “real-time” appearance. For fans of black and white films, the opening sequence in bxw had just the faintest touch of nostalgia for the mind, but solid contrast and the broad spectrum of grey tones for the eyes. I also put in the 3D disc and the Oppo again performed with precision and at no times was there any glitches or momentary hiccups as the disc performed.
The main point of the BDP-103 is that whatever it does it does in a straightforward, professional and efficient manner; none of that waiting for a menu to appear or a screen to slide into view — the interior processor is as heavy-duty as the components found within. And while it’s fine to leave all the default settings “as is”, those wishing more control over the video and audio will find a wealth of options — again presented in a straightforward manner that doesn’t require any learning curve to understand. Comparing the settings on the Oppo to most of the BD players out there is like comparing a Ferrari to a Plymouth. And in my case I made few adjustments, mostly on the audio side to configure my going directly out of the digital audio port to a sound bar, and left those digital enhancement technologies available off because they weren’t needed.
Bottom line: It’s not often that you get what you pay for. You may pay more for the Oppo BDP-103 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player, but in return you not only get functionality not found on other Blu-ray players, but more stable functionality of those features it shares. But what you really get is a high-resolution video picture from a Blu-ray disc that’s as good as is possible for home viewing.
Two HDMI ports, External WiFi dongle, Sealed optical drive mechanism, Illuminated remote
Momentary reboot after exiting some online entertainment sites
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.