Oppo DV-980H - 1080p Up-Converting Universal DVD Player Delivers Great Sound at a Budget Price!

Audiophiles are a tough bunch to please. If you’ve ever walked into the showroom of a high-end audio store, you would be hard pressed to find systems priced less than ten grand at the low-end. Naturally, the secret desire of most audiophiles is that bargain system that sounds as good as those outrageously priced one. While it’s a bit of an impossible dream, when an affordable product emerges that deserves serious consideration, then an underground whispering campaign begins. One of those products is the Oppo DV-980H, an affordable Universal DVD player that can play normal DVDs and CDs, but also SACD and DVD-A formats in addition to a slew of others (the four mentioned are the most common, though).

The company is unique in that as it only offers a few products, those products are thought out very carefully. They sell direct, without the middleman overhead, and the units are astonishingly good, especially for the price point. We have been working with the Oppo DV-980H, which is a 1080p Up-Converting Universal DVD Player. It supports HDMI for direct connection to supporting components, and 7.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX decoding. When I first contacted Oppo I was confused about the differences between the Oppo 981HD and the 980H. The two share many of the same features, but the 981HD has been designed to deliver slightly better video with High Definition displays. Since our interest was primarily in audio, the 980H was the proper unit for us to consider, as the strength of the 980H was its emphasis on audio performance.

Audiophiles have a quirky habit of placing units that cost of a couple of hundred dollars in systems that cost thirty grand, and some of the reviews did just that. We didn’t do that, but we did audition it on a well-thought out system. Our experience with the 980H was that it deserved serious consideration against far more expensive components with loads more hubris and self-declared perfection. Nowadays many folks have home theater systems that must also serve as their primary audio systems, a shift from just a few years ago when most of us had dedicated stereo systems.

With the advent of the high-resolution DVD Audio or Super Audio CD formats, there is real value for a universal player that can play all formats at an affordable price. There are other inexpensive universal format players, such as the Pioneer DV-578A or DV-563A players. However, we felt that the Oppo DV-980H sounded far more musical and open than those players, with better bass management. The Oppo also played the Neil Young DVD-A releases without problems, titles that refused to play on the Pioneer units until an almost impossible to find firmware update corrected the issue.

The unit also has a USB 2.0 input. My hunch is that it while it may be neat, most will probably never try it, along with support for the late great Kodak Picture CD format. It won’t play Blu-Ray or HD DVDs, but with that battle for format supremacy far from settled, I don’t think it’s much of an issue. At the moment, the safe bet is a universal player like the DV-980H, which can play just about anything you throw at it without missing a beat. There is an argument that says that for not much more money, you can purchase a true HD or Blu-Ray player, even if those prices were artificially lowered for the 2007 holiday season. But those players are optimized for video first and audio last, and from what I’ve heard, the audio is nowhere as refined or musical as with the 980H.

Every DVD I played on it looked great, with little evidence of artifacts or errors. Both conventional and high-resolution audio formats played fine, and sounded great. The audio signature was on the neutral side, with little evidence of coloration or harshness. The high-end transients were well defined, without the brittleness that often defines inexpensive components. I enjoyed the understated industrial design, elegant, and to the point. I also subjected the player to various test discs, and it cleanly rendered black and white patterns, and there was little evidence of upsampling errors.

My only complaint about the Oppo DV-980H is that I think it’s a bit too slim, which follows the general trend toward anorexic components. The rear panel has the usual compliment of jacks, including the 8 multi-channel outputs for analog support of DVD-A and SACD. The problem is that you need a wee bit more room for the connectors than is provided, especially with larger cables, which can barely fit.

The Oppo DV-980H is packed complete with a gold-plated HDMI cable, an AV cable, and a remote control. By the way, when we use the word “affordable,” we mean it. At the time of this review, the Oppo DV-980H is priced at $169. We really don’t think you can find a better universal player with better audio performance for the price, or even a price three times higher.

Harris Fogel, Posted 1/1/2008

For more information on the Oppo DV-980H: www.oppodigital.com