It seems every type of new technology goes through a dark period of technical problems before things finally settle. Even though Blu-Ray technology has finally turned a corner to mainstream status with the worldwide marketplace, it’s still going through a dark age where some of the biggest names produce players with surprising and alarming technical issues. If you’ve ever scanned comments from consumers of Blu-Ray players on Amazon.com, you’ll frequently see a scroll of gripes about problems from usually superior names Samsung, Toshiba or Sony. These problems range from firmware failures, freezing issues or the player just going into a quick death without explanation and no electrocution.
The problem here, of course, is that the electronics titans who make Blu-Ray players are too complacent in doing Beta testing and instead deal with issues after several million complaints are on the boards. And yet these Blu-Ray players dominate every electronics store shelf from sea to shining sea. Any saving grace from that is that many of them with good features are well within affordable ranges of late, sometimes as low as $120 or less.
Long before these painful situations (in 2004 to be precise), a company out of Mountain View, California called Oppo Digital was founded. They came out of nowhere and offered a universal DVD player amid the diffuse dominance of the bigger names in the standard-definition DVD player market. Long before Blu-Ray arrived, this player was already scoped out by critics as a standout from all other players around at the time. Any chances of it dominating, though, were kept in the periphery due to the player not being available in any electronics store. Oppo, however, gave the option of ordering it directly from their website.
They’ve kept that option going through all of their evolving DVD players that became progressively put on a pedestal for being superior in not only video quality, but also superior audio. When Blu-Ray finally hit the tipping point of popularity with a reluctant public in 2009, Oppo was there to compete. Their BDP-83 Blu-Ray player drove critics into frenzies by saying it was the best Blu-Ray player on the market, bar none. Quality was the word that was called out more than anything–particularly in the way the player was built, packaged and with nary a technical blip during playback once firmware was downloaded.
All of this was skeptically assimilated when I started shopping for a Blu-Ray player earlier this year. I’d already done all my homework by looking at Best Buy and all the other usual electronic store suspects. Reading the problems with Samsung, Toshiba and Sony players was head-splitting and prolonged any spur-of-the-moment purchase. Oppo, though, was a name that was unfamiliar and only found by happenstance on Amazon.com where one of the bestselling Blu-Ray players there was the BDP-83. Alongside all the glowing reviews was something that likely stops some consumers from buying: A $499 retail price with no discounts.
Yes, I digested the realization that you ultimately pay for quality. Then I asked myself one of the fewest-asked questions in the world of electronics today: Why aren’t Oppo’s Blu-Ray players on every electronics store shelf?
The answer to the above is still forthcoming, though it obviously isn’t by decree of the company itself. And it may not be the case overseas as it is in America. Fortunately, at least, Amazon.com exposure brought Oppo a bigger audience. Nevertheless, millions of busy American consumers shopping for a Blu-Ray player would rather walk the aisles of major electronics store chains to see what the best options are. All they see are the major brands pushed on them that continue to have profound technical issues, despite having more affordable price ranges.
Then there’s the customer support from those monopolistic brand names that frequently gets reported to be as bad you can imagine–complete with Indian cast of NBC’s “Outsourced” on the phone banks. When I ordered Oppo’s BDP-83 Blu-Ray player through Amazon, I wrote Oppo’s customer service requesting a firmware CD. I’d heard that they offered free firmware CD’s for those who didn’t intend to use an internet connection on the player. Within several hours, Oppo replied and said they’d send a free CD without charge. Based on Amazon.com customer comments, Oppo also offers every other kind of prompt customer support if a rare problem arises with their players.
It’s these near-perfect elements of an electronics company that makes you wonder why America can’t make them #1. I still hold a firm belief that even though an economic downturn may mean bargain hunting, serious consumers will still pay for quality when the majority of alternatives are inferior. My experience with Oppo has it backing up the profuse evidence of superior video quality from most other brands, standout audio for both movies and CD’s and not a single technical hiccup. It also plays multiple DVD formats, has classy menus and sturdily built, complete with a carrying bag. You’ll also get a manual written in understandable English and not one translated from Japanese, to Swahili to English.
There seems to be an indication that the major brands are monopolizing all the store shelves and not allowing Oppo into the crowded marketplace. More indication is there that the major brands know how good Oppo is and likely fear nobody buying theirs if Oppo’s players were front and center. All Oppo would need is an anti-trust debacle on their hands.
Fortunately, Oppo also has a more basic Blu-Ray player that’s cheaper at $289 to provide some options from the BDP-83’s $499 price tag. If they ever get into retail stores amid the larger names, the balance would come in the bigger names finally being forced to put out a Beta version of their players to iron out the myriad kinks as Oppo did. Then the real test would be how long each player lasts.
Despite being bigger and slightly heavier, an Oppo player will likely still be in entertainment centers five to ten years from now while all others are sitting in a recycle center.