(Pocket-lint) - Look up "legend" in the Blu-ray dictionary and you'll find pictures of Oppo's BDP-105. These ultra expensive BD decks became the reference standard for Blu-ray playback across the world. Now Oppo is out to do the same thing for Ultra HD Blu-ray playback with its new UDP-203.
The 203 sets its premium stall out right away thanks to its heavy-duty metal chassis and the fact that it hulks over every other Ultra HD Blu-ray deck we've seen so far like some modern-day colossus.
Is it the 4K UHD Blu-ray player to plump for?
Oppo UDP-203 review: Better connected
- 2x HDMI out; 1x HDMI in; 3x USB; LAN & Wi-Fi
- Built-in audio decoder (8x audio line-outs)
- Optical and coaxial digital audio output
As well as looking smart in its brushed black finish, the 203's front panel handily hosts a large, elegantly illuminated LED, while the rear space is packed with the biggest collection of connections found on any Ultra-HD Blu-ray player to date.
These include two HDMI outputs (one for video, one for sound); an HDMI input (so that you can feed external sources through the 203's processors); a pair of USBs to go with a third on the front; a LAN port as a wired alternative to the integrated Wi-Fi; trigger in and out ports; optical and coaxial digital audio outputs; and a set of eight audio line outs for people who want to use its built-in multi-channel audio decoder.
Oppo UDP-203 UHD BR player review: HDR master
- HDR10 capable; Dolby Vision support (added mid-2017)
- DVD, Blu-ray, UHD Blu-ray, 3D, CD, SACD, DVD-A discs
The Oppo 203 can also play more disc types than any other deck, including 3D Blu-rays, SACDs and DVD Audio discs.
Its star attraction for many AV enthusiasts, however, is that it's the first Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the world to support Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) playback alongside the industry standard HDR10 system (at the time of writing, only the LG UP970 also supports DV).
Given its self-consciously premium nature, it's not surprising to find the Oppo 203 sporting some unusual features that should endear it to custom installers and high-end owners.
Oppo 4K Blu-ray player review: Match to display
- Target luminance: instruct player the output display's max brightness
- Strip metadata HDR: best images for low-brightness displays
Particularly noteworthy and welcome is a "strip metadata HDR" option. This means that people with 4K-capable displays - typically projectors - that aren't really bright enough to show HDR properly can take HDR out of a 4K Blu-ray image and just benefit from the format's extra resolution and colour depth.
You may have to do a little re-calibration after activating the strip metadata option, but the bottom line is that it lets you achieve better results on low brightness displays than you can with HDR - or even HDR to SDR conversion - active.
Talking of HDR to SDR conversion, this option is available too. It's not quite as clever as the same feature on Panasonic's Ultra HD players, but it has been greatly improved in recent days by the addition of a "target luminance" feature that lets you tell the player how bright the display is that the converted signal is going to be feeding.
Also useful for people whose displays may be prone to colour banding when showing HDR is an option to force the signal to output as 10-bit or even 8-bit. Currently Panasonic's UB900 flagship deck only outputs 12-bit if it thinks a TV can handle it, and this has led to signficant colour striping problems (though Panasonic is introducing a firmware update to fix this soon).
Oppo UHD BRP review: Perfect image quality?
Oppo claims that MediaTek chipset at the 203's heart has been designed to deliver the best picture quality yet from the new Ultra HD Blu-ray format. And, for once, these claims appear to be true!
The Oppo 203 quite clearly beats all rivals - including the mighty Panasonic UB900 - in all three of the main performance areas that make 4K Blu-ray special. Colours, for instance, look bolder, somehow slightly brighter, but crucially also more natural and subtly defined.
So clear is this improvement that it'll strike you as soon as you load up a few favourite discs, even without the need to run direct side-by-side comparisons. Of course we did some side-by-sides and these merely confirmed it. The 203 really is the master of image quality.
The Oppo 203's pictures also look more generally dynamic than those of any of its rivals. Blacks look a little deeper, and peak whites and colours look more explosive. In other words, HDR looks more HDR, giving you a new appreciation of what this luminance range technology can do.
The 203 even manages to eke a bit more detail and sharpness out of the best quality Ultra HD Blu-rays. Side-by-side comparisons show the smallest elements of 4K pictures looking clearly crisper and cleaner on the 203 than on any of its rivals.
Oppo UDP-203 review: The downsides
The Oppo 203 doesn't have things all its own way, however. Panasonic's UB900 delivers slightly more detail in the very darkest parts of HDR images, and also slightly outguns the 203 when it comes to both upscaling HD Blu-rays and converting HDR to SDR. The UB900's high-end audio system sounds slightly better too, especially when playing compressed audio files.
We also found that the 203 introduced distracting amounts of audio lag if used to feed external video sources - such as a Sky Q box - through it using its HDMI input.
Finally it's important to point out that unlike all other UHD Blu-ray players to date, the Oppo 203 doesn't carry any online app support. So if, for instance, you want to stream from Amazon, Netflix, et al, you'll have to get a TV or some other external set-top box that offers such services.
While it's not completely perfect, even as it stands today the Oppo UDP-203's 4K Blu-ray prowess goes a long way to justifying its premium price.
With its Dolby Vision talents (made available from mid 2017) - which is something even Panasonic's UB900 won't be getting - the Oppo seems sure to become the deck of choice for the sort of AV fan who considers "compromise" to be a dirty word.
The alternatives to consider...
Considering the Panasonic is a good third cheaper than the Oppo thanks to a price drop, it's the next-best choice to go for if you're a high-end AV fan. The audio output is better, too, which is a bonus. Shame there's no Dolby Vision though.
Read the full review: Panasonic UB-900 review: The UHD Blu-ray master
One of the two original UHD Blu-ray players, Samsung's play is with budget. It doesn't have the imaging or audio chops of its top-end Panasonic and Oppo competitors, but at near to £200 it's a relative bargain. So if you're more about budget than perfection, this is one viable option.
Read the full review: Samsung UBD-K8500 review: Beautiful 4K Blu-ray
Xbox One S
Hang on a minute, isn't this a console? Yes, but it's the only one that can play UHD Blu-ray discs. It is, therefore, a budget and multi-functional access point if you're looking for a player that can do a little more.
Read the full review: Xbox One S review: Great console and 4K Blu-ray player, what else?