The SACD and DVD-Audio battle was the format war that nobody won. There
are a variety of reasons why neither format caught on with the general public.
I have always felt the main technical issue with these formats was their
inability to make a simple digital data connection from the player to the
receiver. The great tragedy of the DVD-Audio and SACD story is that we now
have a reasonably well developed standard in HDMI that solves most of these
Time marches on and now we have two new disc formats
for HD video and high-res multi-channel audio. Either Blu-ray or HD-DVD will
be the future, but unfortunately it looks like their hardware manufacturers
have decided that legacy support for SACD and DVD-Audio is not part of that
Thankfully, there is the Oppo DV-981HD, an upscaling DVD player, which
supports both DVD-A and SACD playback over its HDMI 1.1 connection. For
those keeping track, HDMI 1.1 supports DVD-Audio and multi-channel PCM,
HDMI 1.2 supports native DSD for SACD, and HDMI 1.3 can handle a bitstream
output for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. The Oppo handles SACD by converting it
to PCM and then outputting it over its HDMI connection. (The 980H and 970HD
will also do this.)
The Oppo DVD players have earned an enviable reputation for their
excellent video performance at very reasonable prices. However, their most
recent players, like the DV-981HD reviewed here, have added some very
impressive audio features. As a long time supporter of high-res multi-channel
audio, the Oppo player's DVD-Audio and SACD support over HDMI was very
exciting to me. When I got things set up, I found the Oppo worked wonderfully
as a DVD-Audio or SACD transport via its HDMI output jack.
Feeding high-res PCM from the Oppo to the
Yamaha RX-V2700 through HDMI made for an excellent combination. I was able to use the
Yamaha's digital room correction, bass management, and excellent D/A
converters without degrading the signal with an unnecessary A/D step.
listened to a number of DVD-Audio discs, including the Beatles' Love and
discs from the Talking Heads Brick box set, and they all sounded great. On
the SACD side, I enjoyed a number of very good classical discs on the Oppo,
like the recordings of the Mahler symphonies recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas with
the San Francisco Symphony, as well as the wonderful RCA Living Presence remasters.
It does not take one long with this material to realize that the Oppo is an
excellent and transparent transport for DVD-Audio and SACD. In addition,
like Kris Deering, I found the Oppo to be a
great upscaling DVD player.
Operationally, the DV-981HD is a very effective and responsive DVD
player. Navigating DVD-Audio discs on many older players was painfully slow,
but the Oppo is quite swift with these discs. SACD tracks are accessed using
a folder system, similar to digital audio files. This is a bit different,
but the Oppo system is simple to use and effective. The only minor quirk I
could find was that the hour place for the time display is a little too
close to the chapter display on the front of the player, which can be
Over the years, I have purchased numerous discs on both SACD and
DVD-Audio, and I continue to purchase such discs when the
option presents itself. Ultimately, I hope that Blu-ray and HD DVD will both
offer a rich catalog of multi-channel music in their supported lossless
format, but that reality is some time off.
The simple fact is that one can
get an Oppo DV-981HD today and enjoy a wealth of high-res multi-channel
music, by using it as a DVD-A and SACD digital transport, with your receiver's or
processor's DACs doing the decoding, and exploiting all of the digital room correction and bass
management technologies modern receiver/processors offer. I was very happy
with the performance of the Oppo DV-981HD and I'm keeping it as my main DVD-V,
DVD-Audio, and SACD player. For $229, it is a no-brainer purchase.
- Matthew Abel -