• Brian Watt


Updated: Jul 17, 2018

The Blu-ray player that lets you make eye candy even more enticing

For the past several months, my living room Sony Blu-ray player had been acting a bit wonky, intermittently refusing to recognize the occasional DVD or Blu-ray disc (even if they are clean and pristine) sometimes causing my Autistic son to become anxious and irritated.

So, I upgraded to the Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray player. For those unfamiliar with the Oppo line, their 103D and 105D models are considered by most A/V enthusiasts and experts to be the best Blu-ray players on the market and thus far, the 103D does not disappoint. The “D” in the model name stands for Darbee Visual Presence, a third-party image enhancement technology that the engineers at Oppo have integrated into the player. At a price tag of $599 (not including tax or shipping), the 103D might be considered a needless extravagance or an investment depending on your point of view. I’m sure there are those reading this who may say, “You’ve got to be kidding me! For a technology destined to go obsolete with the expansive offerings available for video streaming?” Of course, in the last ten years, I don’t know about you but I’ve easily spent much more in DVD players and some Blu-ray players that have gone belly up after their warranty periods and that I’ve donated to my local recycling center or to Goodwill Industries for possible repair and resurrection for other families. And I’m not likely to part with my movie collection any time soon.

So, what makes Oppo player worth the price? To begin with it operates very quietly and efficiently, launching Blu-ray and DVD discs much faster than models from the other CE brands. Like other Blu-ray players it includes a suite of online music and video streaming services including Netflix, Pandora, CinemaNow and others but it also includes a feature that enables any standard DVD or Blu-ray disc to be converted to a 3D movie. Say what? I was skeptical about this feature at first, but was surprised at the results. The depth of the 3D conversion can even be tweaked a bit for even more pleasing results. Of course, not all movies look great in 3D. In Gladiator, the arena surface in the Coliseum in Rome, for example looked quite odd and many of the pivotal scenes Ridley Scott chose to show his actors in close-up essentially rendering the application of a 3D effect to be superfluous and annoying but I may experiment further on other movies to see which have the most startling results. To note: one’s HDTV must also be capable of displaying 3D movies and you’ll need 3D glasses (that typically are included with your 3D HDTV).

But what makes the 103D compelling to those like myself who are obsessed with films and image quality is the inclusion of Darbee Visual Presence which works off the unit’s HDMI 1 Output Port and which allows for even more enhanced detail for Blu-ray films as well as enhancing most standard DVDs to look as though they are Blu-ray discs. Testing the effects of Darbee on DVDs like Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Olivier’s Henry V, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, or David Lean’s The Bridge On The River Kwai, or the film noir/science fiction thriller Dark City all of which have a native resolution of 480p but shown on a 1080p HDTV proved quite impressive sometimes giving the viewer the impression that they are watching a 1080p Blu-ray version of the film. And applying even a moderate Darbee High-Def setting of about 40% and some moderate detail and edge enhancement tweaks makes even most Blu-ray films that much more crisp bringing out detail, especially in fabrics, ornate jewelry, skin and other textural surfaces as I noticed in my Blu-ray discs of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hugo, The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and Lawrence of Arabia to name just a few.

The science behind Darbee is a bit involved and the video (linked above) delves into it in some detail, suffice to say that many of the enhancements aren’t simply universal, brute force efforts to sharpen images or clean up artifacts or noise; for example, when one overly sharpens an image using the picture settings on one’s HDTV, often the result is an increase in grain or visual noise in otherwise non-detailed areas like walls or blue skies which can be annoying. Darbee has been engineered to avoid that, especially if used sparingly or more delicately. Darbee also features a split-screen or screen swipe demo mode to give the viewer an idea of how much of an enhancement is necessary or pleasing to the eye.

Both the 103 and 105 models include audio processing capabilities that let users connect speakers directly to them. Since I have a very good 7.1 Surround Sound Denon AVR, I simply let the Denon handle all the sound separation required from the 103D’s source material, whether a Blu-ray disc, a Netflix stream, or a Pandora radio station. That said, I have noticed that sound quality from Pandora tracks do sound much crisper and cleaner when sourced from the Oppo 103D and then pushed through the Denon than from my previous Sony Blu-ray player, or my Roku box. I’m not entirely sure why that should be the case unless the Oppo’s circuit boards are generating much cleaner, crisper sound with less electronic noise, but it does sound great.

The Oppo 103, 103D, 105 and 105D models also include upscaling to 4k resolution for those who have an extensive DVD and Blu-ray library and have 4k-capable TVs and want to take advantage of getting the picture quality now rather than wait for content in native 4k resolution. The 103D can be found on several online retail sites but many dealers tend to jack-up the price beyond the $599 exorbitantly. One can purchase the 103D unit on Amazon for the MSRP of $599 (again not including tax or shipping) but I chose to purchase directly from the manufacturer from their office in Los Gatos, California for the same price.

The downside, at the moment, is that Logitech still doesn’t have a profile for the Oppo Blu-ray player models in its database for their line of Harmony universal remotes. In fact, the Harmony online database thinks the players are complete home theater systems. Thus controlling the Oppo player must be done with the remote control included with it or a smartphone app available for download. A minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

For optimal acoustics, my home theater is set up in my living room with adjacent dining room that has a hardwood floor and cathedral ceiling. I have four Sony tower speakers for surrounds and two efficient smaller speakers on two ear-height pedestals for Front Left and Right and Sony center speaker. The Oppo BDP-103D is connected via HDMI to my Denon AVR S900W 7.1 Surround receiver, which is in turn connected via HDMI to my Samsung 60-inch OLED 3D HDTV. Each component in the system (Denon AVR, Oppo 103D, the Samsung HDTV, Roku, AppleTV) are connected via Ethernet to a 16-port D-Link Gigabit Switch which is in turn connected to my WiFi router and then modem.

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