The OPPO Digital’s UDP-203 is a new Ultra HD Blu-ray player which joins the $600 Panasonic player at the higher end of the price spectrum. The Samsung and Philips players are now selling for $200 to $250, which begs the question: what does the higher-priced OPPO player offer that the others do not?
Well, for one thing, the UDP stands for “universal disc player.” Like previous OPPO Blu-ray offerings, this one supports playback of the SACD and DVD-Audio high-resolution audio formats, in addition to the Ultra HD Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, and CD formats. It includes a high-quality AKM DAC and multichannel analog audio outputs, with a Pure Audio mode, to appeal more to the audio crowd. It’s also designed to serve as a media hub, with three USB ports for media playback and an HDMI input to pass through a second AV source.
The UDP-203 supports the HDR10 High Dynamic Range format and can pass up to 12-bit color and the BT.2020 color space. It doesn’t currently support playback of Dolby Vision HDR content, but OPPO says that the necessary hardware is in place inside the player, to be activated via a firmware update sometime in early 2017. Dolby Vision requires special hardware; it can’t just be done through a software update, which means those early players that don’t support Dolby Vision can’t be upgraded to do so.
Unlike the other UHD offerings and previous OPPO players like the BDP-103, the UDP-203 does not include streaming services like Netflix, VUDU, YouTube, Pandora, and Rhapsody. The company explains the decision like this: “In order to provide a premium user experience with quick start-up times and fast response, the UDP-203 is designed with a purist approach in mind for disc and file playback, and so it does not carry internet video and music streaming apps.” However, it does contain 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet to support network media streaming, firmware updates, and IP control.
Speaking of control, the player offers both RS-232 and trigger in/out ports, as well as front- and back-panel IR sensors so that, if you must use an IR cable for control purposes, you can hide it around back instead of having it hang clumsily in front of your gear. It’s little touches like these that elevate the UDP-203 and provide a flexibility that the lower-priced players lack.
One final way in which the UDP-203 distinguishes itself is in its build quality. It’s a larger, more substantial piece of hardware than the Samsung and Philips players, with a thicker, sturdier steel chassis and solid brushed-aluminum front face, four isolation feet, and a large front-panel display. Its form factor is basically identical to that of the BDP-103 that has served as my reference player for many years now: It measures 16.9 by 12.2 by 3.1 inches and weighs 9.5 pounds. There are a couple differences up front: the center-oriented disc tray has been moved up slightly to make room for the larger front-panel display directly below it, and gone is the MHL/HDMI input found on the BDP-103’s front face.
Moving around to the back of the UDP-203, you’ll find two HDMI outputs: The main output is HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 copy protection to send the 4K video signal (and accompanying audio) to your UHD-capable display or AV receiver. The second output is for audio only, allowing you to mate the UDP-203 with an older audio processor that lacks 4K/HDR pass-through. I tested the OPPO with several 4K displays–the LG 65EF9500 OLED TV, the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB projector, and the older Samsung UN65HU8550 LED/LCD TV. Sometimes I fed the video signal directly into the displays; other times, I passed both video and audio through an Onkyo TX-RS900 AV receiver.
Both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs are also included to improve compatibility with older audio processors, powered speakers, and soundbars (the Samsung only has optical digital, and the Philips has neither option), as well as the aforementioned 7.1-channel analog audio outputs.
The back panel’s HDMI input is HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, which means it will accept up to a 4K/60 signal but it doesn’t currently support HDR pass-through. (My OPPO rep says this function could be added at a later date, but that has not yet been determined.) This HDMI input could be beneficial in two ways. First, if your display device only has one HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 input (like many projectors), you can run a second 4K source through the UDP-203 and then run a single cable to your display. Second, you could connect a streaming media stick or player directly into the OPPO to deliver streaming services in a more integrated fashion. I connected several sources to the HDMI input during the course of my review, including a Hopper 3 HD DVR, a Roku 4, and an Amazon Fire TV 4K box. None of these boxes supports HDR anyhow, so the inability to pass it was not a concern. Currently, the major streaming media players that support HDR are the Roku Ultra and the NVIDIA Shield.
As with the player itself, the supplied IR remote looks nearly identical to that of previous OPPO offerings, with just a few minor tweaks. This is full-fledged remote with buttons for pretty much every function you could want–including home, top menu, pop-up menu, info, pure audio, setup, subtitle, zoom, resolution, and separate track-skip and rewind/fast-forward buttons (the Samsung combines these functions on the same buttons, which can make for a frustrating user experience). More buttons means less trips into the onscreen interface, which I appreciate. The new remote adds motion-sensitive backlighting, so the buttons automatically illuminate when you pick it up.
The initial power-up took only about 10 seconds, and the first thing that caught my attention was the new user interface. Gone is OPPO’s classic black screen with the various icons arranged in two rows. Now, there’s a single row of menu options running along the bottom of the screen: seven options for Disc/No Disc, Music, Photos, Movies, Network, Setup, and Favorites. Each menu option is accompanied by a gorgeous hi-res photo in the background. It’s very clean but attractive design that’s also easy to navigate.
The Setup menu has the same basic design and navigation as previous OPPO players, and this is where you can make a variety of AV adjustments to mate the player to your system. And I do mean a variety, as there are lot more options here to tailor both the video and audio output than you’ll see in the lower-priced players. Thankfully, many of these video and audio options are set to “Auto” out of the box, so the UDP-203 should work nicely with any display, receiver, etc. to which you connect it.
On the video side, you can set the player’s resolution for Auto (to automatically match your TV) or Source Direct (to output every disc at its native resolution), but there’s also a newly added Custom mode, which allows you to designate a resolution anywhere from 480i up to UHD 60 Hz. Along with that, you can designate a specific color space (RGB Video level, RGB PC level, YCbCr 4:4:4, YCbCr 4:2:2, or YCbCr 4:2:0) and color depth (8-, 10-, or 12-bit) and set HDR for on, off, or “strip metadata.” Again, these are all set to Auto out of the box, which worked great to send a UHD HDR signal to my LG TV. However, the flexibility to tweak the settings would prove beneficial when I mated this player with the Epson projector (more on this in the Performance section).
One important setup note: Many UHD TVs require you to enable UHD Deep Color to pass the full bit depth and color space that are possible with an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. You can do this in the TV’s Video or Picture setup menu. The LG TV that I use has a setting in the Picture menu called HDMI ULTRA HD Deep Color, and you can enable it per input. When I first connected the OPPO player to the LG TV, it would not pass an HDR signal–then I remembered that I had turned off the LG’s Deep Color for a previous test. Once I turned it back on, the player passed HDR without issue to the LG TV.
On the audio side, the UDP-203 has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, and you can pass bitstream audio output to send Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to your AV receiver. The player’s HDMI audio output is set to Auto by default, or you can lock it in to bitstream or PCM. Should you opt to use the analog outputs instead, the player uses the eight-channel AKM 32-bit AK4458VN DAC chipset. You can adjust the DAC’s filter characteristics; and, just like with previous players, you can do a complete 7.1-channel speaker configuration, setting crossover, size, level, and distance for each speaker. For this review, I stuck with digital output through HDMI. Audiophiles might be interested to know that OPPO intends to introduce a step-up, audiophile-oriented version of this player that will basically replace the current BDP-105. We don’t know the exact release date or pricing for that model yet.
As I said above, the menu system has a clean, simple design that’s easy to navigate. Disc playback is set by default to begin automatically when you insert a disc. I auditioned a number of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, including The Revenant, Sicario, The Martian, Insurgent, and Star Trek. In each case, the player had no issue passing the full-resolution HDR signal through to the LG OLED TV, even when I added my Onkyo TX-RS900 AV receiver in the middle of the chain. The demo scenes were wonderfully detailed, and playback was smooth.
I had just acquired the Magnificent Seven UHD disc when I began my review of the UDP-203, so I popped in that film to watch all the way through. It’s a gorgeous UHD image, filled with vast landscapes and lots of gritty fine details, and the OPPO player did exactly what it’s supposed to do–deliver the signal to my display without blemish.
Thus far, the experience of watching Ultra HD Blu-ray through a projector has been a little less plug-and-play than it is through a TV. When I recently reviewed the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB, it originally could not pass HDR from the Samsung UBD-K8500, but a firmware update on the Samsung end fixed the issue. I was curious to see if I’d encounter a similar problem with the OPPO. What I discovered was that the OPPO successfully passed the HDR signal to the Epson from the get-go, but a look at the Epson’s Info page showed that it was only displaying an 8-bit HDR signal when the OPPO was set for Auto resolution output.
My OPPO rep suggested that, since the Epson is really a 1080p projector that happens to receive UHD/HDR signals, it could be causing some confusion between the two and that I should move away from the Auto resolution mode and set up a custom mode instead. The UDP-203 remote has a helpful Info button that, if you press and hold it, reveals the exact specs of the media you’re playing. Every UHD BD disc I’ve tested thus far has a 3,840 x 2,160p/24 resolution with BT.2020 color and a 10-bit YCbCr 4:2:0 image. So, I set up a custom mode for a UHD 24Hz resolution, 10-bit color depth, and YCbCr 4:2:0 color space, and that did the trick. From that point on, the Epson displayed the incoming signal appropriately. (For what it’s worth, the Samsung passed the signal just fine once I did the firmware update.) Such is the nature of the compatibility beast in these early UHD times.
Overall, the UDP-203 served up every disc type I fed it–Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD, and DVD-Audio–without hiccup. Its video processing is top-notch. It passed all of the processing/cadence tests on the HQV Benchmark and Spears & Munsil test discs, both with 480i and 1080i signals. Since I reviewed this player over the holidays, I popped in my old Miracle on 34th Street DVD and watched it all the way through; I’m not a fan of the DVD’s colorization of the black-and-white film classic, but I found no fault with the UDP-203’s handling of the disc. I saw no jaggies or moire, and the level of detail was as a good as can be expected for the DVD transfer.
I also performed some speed comparisons with the Samsung UBD-K8500 player. The Samsung proved to be just a little faster, both in power-up and loading of all disc types–but we’re talking a difference of a few seconds here or there. For example, the aforementioned Magnificent Seven disc took 24 seconds (from disc load to studio logo) on the Samsung and 27 seconds on the Oppo. The Martian took 18 seconds on the Samsung and 24 on the Oppo. Both players are much faster than the Philips BDP7501, which is more sluggish in most every aspect: disc loading, power-up, and general navigation. The UDP-203 is in energy saving mode by default; if you really have a patience problem, you can shave a couple seconds off the power-up time by switching to the network standby mode, which is also the preferred setting if you plan to use IP control to power on the player.
In the main menu, the Music, Photos, and Movies sections are where you’ll access your personal media files, connected via the USB ports (or stored on a disc). The USB ports accept thumb drives and full-fledged servers; the front port is USB 2.0, while the two back-panel ports are USB 3.0. File support is strong. With music, AIFF, WAV, FLAC, MP3, ALAC, AAC, and WMA are all supported. I loaded a couple 24/96 HDTracks samplers in the FLAC and AIFF formats on a USB thumb drive and had no issue with playback. The player supports playback of DSD files stored on USB: it supports stereo DSD64 and DSD128 and multichannel DSD64. On the video end, it supports MP4, M4V, MOV, AVI, AVC HD, and more. I popped in the Digital Video Essentials UHD USB stick and ran through both video and photo tests; the UDP-203 successfully passed the full UHD resolution video in both the H.264 and HEVC formats, and it also passed UHD resolution in photos–although it did appear to be cropping the photos just a bit.
The Network menu is where you’ll find a list of any compatible media servers on your home network. The UDP-203 supports the DLNA, SMB/CIFS, and NFS network protocols, and I had no trouble playing music, photo, and movie files stored on my Seagate DLNA NAS drive. The interface for all media files is clean and intuitive–it’s not particularly eye-catching, but it’s faster and more intuitive than what you get on many basic Blu-ray players that treat this function as an afterthought. The interface provides helpful thumbnails of album art (when available), photos, etc. You can display your music files by folder, song, artist, album, genre, or playlist. Using the remote’s Option button, you can easily craft playlists or add songs to the Favorites section. Classical music fans will appreciate the ability to enable gapless playback through the Options tool.
Last but not least, I tested the pass-through of a second source through the UDP-203’s HDMI input. Strangely, when I first tried connecting the Roku and Amazon boxes, the player would not let me pass a 4K resolution. It forced me to configure these boxes in 1080p mode. Out of curiosity, I tried connecting the Samsung UHD player to the OPPO’s HDMI input and was able to pass the 4K signal just fine. When I went back to the Roku and Amazon boxes after that, they passed 4K, too. I’m not sure what kind of communication/handshake issue was going on there, but it worked itself out. At first, there was an obvious AV sync issue with all three sources I passed through the OPPO; but, after experimentation with the audio delay adjustment in the UDP-203’s setup menu, I was able to align the audio and video. The OPPO remote includes an Input button at the top that allows you to switch between the player itself, the HDMI input source, and the Audio Return Channel (ARC) signal coming back from your TV. That last option provides another way to integrate streaming services into the OPPO interface, if you purchased a smart TV (and chances are high that, if you own a UHD TV, it’s also a smart TV).
Overall, the UDP-203’s stability and reliability were very good, but I did encounter a few glitches during my time with it. As I detailed above, there were some HDMI issues–from the input that wouldn’t originally pass 4K to the communication problem with the Epson. A couple times, when resuming playback of a UHD disc, I got a black screen on my TV. I had to stop the disc and restart it to get the picture back. And the player froze on me twice when I inserted a disc. I’ve had minor issues with every new UHD player I’ve tested so far. The good news is, OPPO has consistently proven itself to be a company that responds to user feedback and puts out regular firmware updates to improve performance, so I think it’s fair to assume that the reliability will continually improve as this brand new player has a chance to evolve.
If you really want an all-in-one media hub, the lack of integrated streaming services might be a disappointment. As I said above, most UHD TVs are smart TVs, so these services are probably already available to you via HDMI ARC. Frankly, I’d rather use a Roku or Amazon Fire box anyhow, so their omission is fine with me.
Comparison & Competition
Price-wise, the Panasonic DMP-UB900 is the primary competitor to the UDP-203. Both are targeted at the higher-end enthusiast; like the OPPO, the Panasonic has better build quality and adds 7.1-channel analog audio outputs. It’s also THX-certified and includes Netflix/YouTube/Web browsing services, but it doesn’t support SACD/DVD-Audio playback, and it does not appear to be upgradeable to support Dolby Vision.
Other competitors that we’ve already discussed include the Samsung UBD-K8500 and the Philips BDP7501. Microsoft’s Xbox One S is another option, if you want a gaming console. Prices start at $299. According to CNET’s review, the console’s HDR setup and playback were finicky, and it won’t pass bitstream audio, which means no support for Dolby Atmos soundtracks.
OPPO Digital has a long and successful track record in producing high-quality Blu-ray players. My BDP-103 is still going strong, and so is its predecessor, the BDP-93. The new UDP-203 seems poised to carry that tradition into the new Ultra HD Blu-ray era. The UDP-203 is well-built, fully featured player with universal disc playback, an HDMI input, USB media support, and multichannel analog outputs for the more discerning audio fan. It’s also the first player to hit the market that is “Dolby Vision ready,” making it more future-proof than its current competitors. If you’re just looking for a basic Ultra HD Blu-ray player to mate with your new UHD TV, then it may not be worth it to step up in price to the $550 UDP-203–especially if your UHD TV doesn’t support Dolby Vision (and most don’t). If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a more complete media hub to support playback of the highest-quality disc formats in both the video and audio realms, as well as a good network/USB player for your personal media collection, then the OPPO UDP-203 is an excellent choice.