We Need a New OPPO…NOW!

Oppo receiver with blue overlay and what looks like lipstick that says please come back with kisses and hearts

am annoyed.

That’s not really anything new, I get annoyed with a great many things on a seemingly more regular basis. But to you know-it-alls and naysayers out there that insist physical media is dead and streaming is king, you can just stuff it as far as I’m concerned. I like and continue to buy physical media and I demand someone make a high-quality device to play it all, properly and with excellent results. The last company to make a player that came close to doing it all was OPPO.

I shed buckets of audio and videophile tears when they left the A/V market and focused on making phones and other goods that I have no interest in. It pains me to no end to see the choices in universal disc players slowly dry up to the point we are left with just half-baked options, most without all of the features I want.
Up close view of inside of Oppo receiver with disc tray ejected
But before I delve into the technical details of what my perfect universal disc player should do and why OPPO is so missed, it’s important to spell out the underlying reason why such a device is still needed. In a word, it’s about OWNERSHIP. I am one of those Neanderthals that still likes to own physical copies of his media. Don’t scoff. If you own any sort of CD (or “gasp” LP) collection) you are on the same rung of the evolutionary ladder as I am. And, if you still own cassettes, you’re just weird and I can’t help you. Seek professional help.

Now, this does not mean I am against streaming or having a copy of what I own, available digitally, to play on a portable device. Not in the slightest! What it does mean is, if I am going to go through the effort of putting together an audio or video system that affords me a superior experience, then I am ultimately going to want to physically own the content I find meaningful and wish to enjoy. And I want that physical copy to be available to me in the best quality format that I can afford. Currently, physically, for audio, that means a CD or SACD or Blu-ray-Audio, and yes, I’ll even throw the old DVD-Audio format in there. For video, it physically has to be 4K UHD Blu-ray with all the HDR flavors available to exploit.

Digital or Cloud media ownership is not the same thing. I’ve purchased the odd movie off Amazon Prime or Vudu with their bits residing somewhere between the ether and the hard drive of our Xbox. And as much as I respect companies like Kaleidescape and their product and media distribution model, what assurance do I have that I forever own any of the digital content I access, even if I’ve paid for it? Having worked, in another life, for the merchandising arm of The Walt Disney Company (yes, I still consider it Walt’s company, despite what some snot-nosed VP tried to tell me in a meeting once) I am well aware of what lengths media companies go to in protecting their intellectual property. I have been involved in corporate discussions of what the company considered to be “legitimate ownership” of any of its content by the consumer, what was the optimal way to monetize that “sense of ownership,” and how often those guideposts should be re-assessed. Can you remember the last time you fully read the biblically long “Terms of Use” or “Service” screeds that comes with any of your music or movie services, smartphone, computer OS, or gaming systems? Don’t think that media companies haven’t thought about inserting language that limits digital ownership of their content, going so far as having it disappear from your hard drive or cloud account, even if you’ve paid for it, once some service term is reached. Rest assured that they have and are looking at such options, regularly. It’s simply a matter of the societal conditions not currently being right for the acceptance of (or better acquiescence to) such a move. Will they ever be? I’d like to think not, but I worry that someday they might.

And before you say, “Hey, who let the conspiracy nut in the room?” just go back and relook at how the HDMI AV interface got put together and approved as a de-facto standard.

Up close detail of Oppo receiver
So that’s why I continue to buy physical copies of my music and movies when it’s something I really want. And to that end, that is why OPPO’s departure from the disc player space was such a blow. No other player manufacturer was as focused on the end-user experience as OPPO was. Every subsequent generation of their players was a noticeable improvement in features, performance, and usability, and they sought out feedback from the user base. I still own three generations of OPPO players, and they all just work, always. The BDP-103 player is still the predominant workhorse in my home theater producing a flawless picture and handing off digital audio to my AVR for processing. My BDP-105D can do that as well, but also has exceptional measured and subjective 2-channel analog audio performance. Feature-wise, it can play any audio disc under the sun, play stereo and multi-channel DSD files (up to DSD128) from a USB stick or hard drive, double as a DAC, and is built like a tank. On top of that, the user interface was snappy, and easy to navigate but also thorough.
Back side of an Oppo receiver
The OPPO UDP-203 and 205 which were the last disc players OPPO produced, added 4K Blu-ray playback to that winning formula. No current manufacturer that I am aware of produces a player that is equivalent on every level. Disc players from Reavon are similar in some respects to the OPPOs with excellent video performance, but the analog audio performance of the top-shelf Reavon UBX-200 is not comparable to even OPPO’s BDP-105D (https://hometheaterhifi.com/reviews/video-player/universal/reavon-ubr-x200-universal-disc-player-review/). Additionally, the UI performance feels sluggish by comparison, and DVD-Audio playback (yes it matters) can be sketchy.

The almost 4-year-old Panasonic DP-UB9000 is another option. Built well and with solid audio and video performance but SACD playback is not supported. The little Sony UBP-X800M2 is a solid entry-level player but has no high-quality analog audio output to speak of and the Dolby Vision feature doesn’t work automatically, needing to be constantly switched on via the menu. Then there are companies like Zidoo and HiFiRose that make beautiful and compelling 4K-capable media players with all the bells and whistles. All they need is a built-in 4K drive that can handle SACD and DVD-Audio and we’d have some real contenders. But as it stands, we have no one. Just incomplete or half-baked choices. Where is Sony ES? Or Pioneer Elite? Integra? Denon? Marantz? Even some of the bigger Chinese brands, who oftentimes can make unexpected products that we don’t see coming? Where are they? Topping could do this, among others. I could see the Canadian hometown crowd at Bryston, Axiom or Anthem pull this off too.

Just so we are crystal clear, this is what I want:

  • Universal Disc playback capabilities including 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, SACD, and DVD-Audio (both stereo and Multi-channel).
  • Top-shelf video processing that recognizes and works with HDR10, HDR10+ AND Dolby Vision.
  • Audio codec support for everything up to and including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
  • Dual HDMI outputs, at least one being the latest version while the other can handle separate multi-channel audio if desired. Both should be designed for low jitter.
  • Top shelf stereo analog outputs, preferably with a separate DAC section, including balanced XLR stereo outputs.
  • Should have superior measured performance.
  • PC-USB input so the player can be utilized as a DAC.
  • USB inputs for thumb and hard drives allowing DSD256 and DSD512 stereo and multi-channel digital file playback.
  • Built-like-a-tank construction.
  • A snappy and user-friendly UI with reliable smartphone app control.
  • A quality backlit remote control.
  • Optional real wood side panels, because…. why not?

This is what we are missing in the A/V world at this time. This is what we need. So, who is going to step up and be the new OPPO?

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?