If you've splashed out on a high-end 4K HDR-ready TV, and you're still watching your discs through some crummy $50 Blu-ray player, you're not getting the full picture. Cheap players use cheap video processing chips, stealing detail and dynamic range. Oppo has the solution to the issue you didn't even know you had with the UDP-203, a 4K HDR Blu-ray disc player that has been built with a striking attention to detail and aim for the utmost in picture quality.
What Is It?
- Disc Support: DVD/Blu-ray/4K Blu-ray
- Resolution: 3840x2160 pixels, 60p
- HDR: Yes, HDR-10
- Connectivity: 2x HDMI 2.0, 1x USB 2.0, optical/coaxial/7.1-ch analogue audio output, Ethernet
- Wi-Fi: Yes
The $949 Oppo UDP-203 is one of the most expensive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players you can buy, outclassing even the $600 Panasonic DMP-UB900 and more than doubling the price of Samsung's $400 UDB-K8500. There's also a much more hardcore UDP-205 for $2199 that beefs up the UDP-203's already excellent audio credentials even further, but that's serious audiophile equipment.
Built on the success of Oppo's existing excellent Blu-ray and DVD players from years past, the UDP-203 is an extremely well built piece of tech. It has dual HDMI outputs -- one for audio -- and a HDMI input for processing video from another external source. It has support for 7.1-channel audio both over digital and analog connectors, and it has network connectivity both over wired and wireless -- important because as well as playing Blu-ray discs, the UDP-203 is just as capable when it comes to playing just about any format of video file from a USB drive (one port on the front, two on the back). On the front of the player there's an adjustable brightness display and five-way navigational pad -- surprisingly useful if you lose the remote control temporarily.
What's It Good At?
When it comes to extracting the absolute best image quality from your hard-bought Ultra HD and HDR-capable Blu-ray discs, of which there are more and more as the months roll on and the 4K Blu-ray standard becomes more widespread, the Oppo UDP-203 reigns supreme. I didn't have a Panasonic DMP-UB900 to compare it directly to, but I did have a Samsung UBD-K8500 and a Xbox One S, and with the same discs -- Pacific Rim and The Martian are my go-tos at the moment, and the UDP-203 really does set itself apart from the crowd.
It's not that either the Samsung or the Xbox deliver a bad picture -- not when it comes to the sharpness of fine image detail nor the dynamic range of the video delivered to the display. It's just that like for like, on the same scenes, the Oppo UDP-203 has a noticeable edge when it comes to the amount of quality of the video that it outputs. There's more detail visible in both especially bright and especially dark portions of individual frames and throughout especially dark and light scenes overall, a result of the UDP-203's excellent video processing abilities. You can enable or disable HDR as you'd like, you can switch between 12- and 10- and 8-bit colour, you can change a whole bunch to suit your TV's output needs.
Upscaling, too, is better on the Oppo than any of its cheaper competitors, especially for anything lower than 1080p in the first place. It has more detail in shadow and highlight areas alike, whether you're watching a HDR-compatible Ultra HD disc or not -- think of the UDP-203's video output as a wider pipe than its rivals. Even if you're watching non-HDR 4K Blu-ray discs like Oblivion, and of course everything from a good ol'-fashioned Blu-ray downwards in quality and resolution the UDP-203 performs admirably as you'd expect. With this player, you're not paying for superfluous features that your 4K TV might already have. You're paying for a player that can do the best of the best when it comes to producing a high quality image, and the Oppo player delivers exactly what I've come to expect.
It's worth mentioning just how good the Oppo's remote control is, too. Like any half-decent bit of home entertainment kit it's backlit, and chunky, and easy to hold while you're navigating through the UDP-203's straightforward and tile-based menu system. There are 3.5mm and RS-232 triggers for hooking up your projector or drop-down screen or lighting or any other serious gear, too -- the kind of stuff you expect to find on high-end players. Also, one small but useful note: this isn't the biggest draw, but it's also worth mentioning that it's significantly quicker to start up and load discs than other players I've tested.
The UDP-203 also fits better into a more serious home theatre setup than the Samsung or even the Xbox. It's the only one of the three with analog audio outputs for 7.1-channel surround sound systems, for example, and it has a dedicated HDMI audio output as well alongside coaxial and optical digital outputs as well. It's even the standard size to fit into a rack of home entertainment equipment alongside a full-size receiver or amplifier or other high-end gear. It has inbuilt dual-band 802.11ac wi-fi, too, so you can play 1080p through any DLNA media server setup in your house -- 4K might be a bit out of reach though unless your network is rock solid. I set it up through Ethernet, which is best for perfect streaming no matter what file format you're watching, but inbuilt wi-fi is a good backup and a solid improvement from the last generation's USB dongle.
What's It Not Good At?
Not having Netflix or Stan or any streaming services whatsoever means the Oppo UDP-203 really is a purist media player purely for disc and file playback, just like Oppo says it is. To be honest, I don't think it's going to be hugely important to many potential buyers of the UDP-203, mainly because any 4K-capable LED or OLED TV worth its salt will already have Netflix streaming built in alongside other services to boot, but it would have been nice to send variable-resolution Netflix streams through the Oppo's amazingly versatile and powerful processing and upscaling video chips.
The Oppo UDP-203 will be the first Blu-ray disc player in the world to support the super-ridiculous-high-quality Dolby Vision HDR standard later in this year. That's deserving of acclaim -- but it's not ready just yet. It should be imminent -- Oppo planned it for a March release -- so there shouldn't be long to wait, at least. If you're considering one of the BDP-203's potential competitors that may also be released with Dolby Vision support, a few weeks' wait may be a prudent choice. Apart from the UDP-203, though, no existing player will be compatible with Dolby Vision, so that narrows the field of competition considerably.
This is an expensive Ultra HD Blu-ray player, just like the BDP-103 before it was for Full HD Blu-ray discs. But with that said, there's a reason I bought the BDP-103 -- it justifies its significant price tag with its excellent build quality and its excellent remote control and, y'know, its excellent picture quality. HDR or no, a higher quality video processing chip can display more shadow and highlight headroom in any disc that you play through this player. There's a legitimate reason for it being expensive. And, in the context of a very expensive OLED or LED TV, the money that you'd spend over a $500 competitor isn't really that much, right?
Should You Buy It?
The UDP-203 is an expensive home theatre device, but it justifies its price tag with the best picture quality I've seen from any Ultra HD Blu-ray player, hands down. It easily bests Samsung's UBD-K8500 or the Microsoft Xbox One S when it comes to outright detail and dynamic range, even with HDR discs -- superior video output processing means that there's just more information in shadows and highlights passed through for the display to decode.
With a 4K OLED, like any of LG's amazing flat or curved OLEDs -- I tested the UDP-203 out on the EF950T, but it'll look even better on a newer panel -- you'll get an absolutely amazing picture, with pixel-level detail and an amazing range of contrast. On a 4K LED screen like Samsung's beautiful QLED and SUHD TVs, you get the advantage of that extra brightness. Whatever display you use, the UDP-203 delivers a genuinely world-class picture.
You'll have to be an enthusiast to get the most out of the UDP-203. You'll have to have a calibrated screen or the ability (and time and effort) to calibrate yours yourself -- ideally once you have the UDP-203 installed as a source to work off, too. Plenty of potential buyers, those without the highest of high-end TVs, will be nearly well as served by the picture quality of a Samsung or a Panasonic or a Microsoft-branded 4K Blu-ray player. What those players don't have is Oppo's refined and actually quite classy on-screen interface, which does lend a little something towards the overall sense of value.
It's great to know that Dolby Vision support is coming soon, but it's slightly disappointing not to have any Netflix available on demand. Of course, if you've already got a 4K TV that the UDP-203 will pair nicely with, you'll have direct access to Netflix -- and likely a dedicated Netflix button -- already. If you're a committed cinemaphile, then the UDP-203 is the best all-round 4K-capable, HDR-ready Blu-ray player that you can buy. It helps that it supports audio output through a swathe of different connector choices, too -- that's just one of the ways that the Oppo UDP-203 is extremely well built and designed to last. From our past experiences of the BDP-103, this is a player you'll be using for years.