Does Oppo's Departure Signal the End of Packaged Media?

The recent departure of Oppo from the new disc player landscape* has produced a flurry of “packaged media is dead” vs. “I want my video discs” chatter on the Web. It has also prompted me to ponder once again both sides of the question.

I don’t believe that Oppo’s decision has much to do with any sign that packaged media is likely to imminently disappear. Check the release schedules shown on a number of disc review sites (such as thedigitalbits.com) and you’ll see that dozens of titles are released each week. Some are new, some are re-releases, and many are unreleased movie titles dumped directly to video. But it’s always been that way. There’s never been more than two or three premier releases available each week. That hasn’t changed. And more and more of them are Ultra HD (UHD) titles, either new or older, the latter trotted out as content providers seize the opportunity to sell us our favorite movies once again. Unlike some, I don’t resent that; no one is forcing you to add them to your Amazon cart. And there are some titles I’ll gladly buy again in UHD. Others, not so much.

It’s true that streaming, in the wider market, is vastly more popular than buying physical discs. But it’s always been that way; video rental stores were once on every block, and few folks bought discs. Now such stores have virtually disappeared. But while sales of packaged discs have decreased, it’s still a viable market. I live in a town of less than 15,000 people, but we have a Walmart with a huge selection of discs including most of the new Ultra HD Blu-ray titles (though they don’t always show up there on the release date). And the prices are competitive with Best Buy and Amazon. No vendor with any sense is selling video discs today at their silly list prices.

So what are the pros and cons of streaming vs. packaged media?

Streaming – It’s undeniably convenient. Most new TVs come ready to stream with a myriad of “Smart TV” features. It can also be affordable, though not always. Some sites are free (though they rarely carry new stuff). Others, like Amazon Instant Video, are a mix of an annual fee (for Amazon Prime), and/or pay up front for a purchase or rental. Netflix commands a monthly fee that varies with the quality of the source (SD vs. HD, for example) but it’s typically less than the cost of one disc.

Then there’s storage. A large disc collection can take up reams of shelf space (tell me about it!). If you don’t have the room you’ll find yourself periodically culling the herd, with each discarded disc triggering a tortured, “Will I ever want to watch this again?” decision. And each disc discarded can be $20 or more down the drain (though you can donate them to charity for a tax deduction to help soften the blow).

Streaming quality can vary with the source, but at best can be quite watchable. Up until a year ago I avoided streaming, and while I still don’t use it as a source for video display reviews (except in rare cases, where it will be clearly stated) it can be satisfying. The Crown, for example, looked superb on Netflix. Ditto The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. And trailers on YouTube can look fine as well—certainly better than they do at my local multiplex.

There are also films that show up on streaming sites in HD that were released on DVD but never on HD Blu-ray. Two outstanding examples are The Gathering Storm and Into the Storm, covering Winston Churchill’s life from the 1930s to the mid 1940s. (See Sussing Out the Churchills.) There’s a glut of original programming available only on streaming as well, including movies (unfortunately, rarely first rate) and multi-episode and sometimes multi-season series (often superb, as in the two mentioned above). Sometimes these eventually show up on Blu-ray, but often not.

That exhausts my list of positives for streaming, but for millions of users it’s more than enough. But all is not perfect in streamingland…

Packaged Media – When it comes to consistent quality, streaming can’t beat Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray. It can, when in HD, certainly beat the SD on DVDs. But while Blu-ray quality is consistent (allowing of course for variations in individual titles) streaming is not. Buffering delays aren’t uncommon with streaming; they’re non-existent on discs. The streamed quality can also be dependent on your available bandwidth. Until we get consistent download bandwidth at reasonable prices across the country, none of this is likely to change.

While most streaming is 1080p HD, there’s also a growing list of 4K titles. But much of it eschews both HDR and a wider than HD color gamut. The improvement in pixel density offered by 4K, given the above limitations in bandwidth and domestic screen sizes, is unlikely to look better when streamed than “Full HD” at 1080p.

We also know of no streamed programs offering lossless audio, either DTS HD-Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. The best we can get is lossy Dolby Digital Plus. As I’ve noted before, DD+ can be better than vanilla DD, but it wasn’t designed to be better; it was developed to provide the same quality at 192kbps as DD’s typical 384kbps. This saves bandwidth, and lower bandwidth is gold for streaming services.

Then there’s availability. Yes, there’s a wide range of movies and other programming available on sites such as Netflix. But there’s a much wider range on disc. If the latter disappears, that source will dry up, and younger viewers in 2030 might never remember the vast collection of titles available on Blu-ray and DVD in 2018. Offering the same selection on a streaming service involves a minefield of server storage space and pricey licensing agreements for the provider.

I may never re-watch many of the 1000 or so discs in my collection, a situation familiar to, say, a vinyl enthusiast with 10,000 LPs. But they’re there when I want them. I pulled six disc titles out of my collection at random for this blog and searched both Netflix and Amazon for them. None were available on Netflix, and only one was available at no charge on Amazon Prime. Of course there are other sites, but by the time I completed the search on these two alone I could have been halfway through both a movie and all of my popcorn. To be fair, there’s now technology that can (unlike my tedious site-by-site search) look through all of the available movie sites to find the film you want (assuming it’s there to be found). But how many current consumers have streaming engines that offer this?

Finally, there’s partial re-watching. I’ll sometimes sit down just to watch several favorite scenes from a number of different movies, either for the performances, the picture, or the sound—sometimes for all three. Yes, I need to do that for my reviewing work. But I often do it for fun as well (and for demoing my system for friends), and suspect I’m not alone in this. It’s much like listening to two or three songs from a favorite album. But streamed films lack chapter searches, and while you can scan to find a scene, I’ve found this so tedious that I rarely do it.


*Oppo has stated that their departure from the player market means that they will not develop and sell new models. While they’ll cease player manufacturing soon, they’ll continue maintenance support of players in the field as needed. I suspect that the frequent updates for which the company has been well known will likely cease as well, but the anticipated update to make their UHD players compatible with Dolby Vision on Sony UHDTVs is in Beta testing and is expected soon.

COMMENTS
utopianemo's picture

The fact that Oppo is not releasing new products, but supporting old ones begs the question: What are they going to be doing instead? If they're still going to be around for tech support and releasing occasional firmware updates, what is/will be the income stream they will have in place to support such activities? I'm very curious.

Hobart's picture

They still make headphones and smartphones.

William Lee's picture

Oppo prices the product at the high end. There are plenty of substitute products that can do just as well at half the price. There are a lot of bells and whistles in the Oppo player. However if you just play the Blu ray and output at 1080p or 4K 24fps and bitstream lossless. I am willing to bet you can't tell whether the content is played from Oppo, Panasonic, Sony, or Samsung.
There is going to be a diminishing of return on the player. One needs to consider the whole system to playback the content. If you have the best player, but a lousy or incorrectly calibrated TV, cheap audio system. The benefit of having Oppo in the system diminishes significantly.

ChicGeek's picture

I take it, from reading your comment, that you DON'T own an Oppo player.

While I agree with your statement about many middlin' players from the likes of Panasonic, Sony or Samsung being apparently equal (particulary, to the average consumer) from a purely audio and video standpoint (especially when connected to a middlin' receiver via HDMI) -- I seriously doubt that the average consumer would purchase an Oppo player (since it would likely cost AT LEAST half as much as the rest of his system).

Also, as the PROUD owner of an Oppo BDP-103 player, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it's NOT just the PERCEIVED audio and video performance that sets the Oppo player apart from the pack, it is also the TOTAL ownership experience of an Oppo that places it head and shoulders above other players!

And, that experience starts with the superior double-boxed packaging of the player, along with its excellent PRINTED and bound owner's manual. And, continues on through its well-balanced, back-lit, intelligently-designed remote control; with its well-organized and highly-functional button arrangement. Not to mention, the elegantly designed and EXTREMELY well-built player itself! Lastly, EVERYTHING about the player SCREAMS quality: from its silent operation, to its MUCH faster than average disc-loading times, to its well-thought-out and intuitive user-interface, the WEALTH of playback information (even from streaming sources) that it makes available to you, and to its ability to play just about EVERYTHING! In short: I ABSOLUTELY LOVE my Oppo!

I have a Panasonic DMP-BDT220 player in my bedroom, and I bemoan its very existence EVERY TIME I used it, because it's NOT my Oppo -- with its noisy disc draw, its LOUDLY whirring disk, its SLOOOOW disc-load time, its REALLY dumb user-interface (particularly with Netflix) and its small, poorly-organized remote control! In fact, I was looking forward to buying a new 4K TV and an Oppo BDP-105 later this year, and replacing the Panasonic player in my bedroom with my current Oppo player. However, it looks like, unless I buy the BDP-105 now (which, for financial reasons, I'd preferred NOT to do), it may not be available to me later this year!

So, in closing, I, and other Oppo owners, are VERY disappointed with Oppo's announcement!

ChicGeek's picture

In the post above I wrote BDP-105 (twice!), when I really meant BDP-205. My apologies, all.

BTW: Sound&Vision EVERY other site I post on allows their members to EDIT their posts, when are you guys going to join the 21st century, and offer the ability to EDIT posts?

JJV59's picture

You forget to mention that most if not all oppo blu Ray players are still going strong after more than a decade. Show me another blu Ray player that lasts as long as the oppo. The cost is justified alone with how long they last. I would like to find out how many players people go through when they spend $50-$100 on a player. I love my bdp 103 along with the 203 that have had for about a year.

rjmedich's picture

You forget to mention that one can still rent discs by mail—especially from Netflix. Netflix, though, doesn't carry 4K discs at this point and maybe never will. 3D Blu-Ray Rental (https://www.store-3d-blurayrental.com/) DOES rent 4K discs, as does Rent 4K (https://rent4k.com/). Both, though, are pricey. Still cheaper than buying, though.

Hobart's picture

I watched a Dolby Vision UHD Blu Ray (Atomic Blonde) on my Oppo UDP yesterday.

pw's picture

The Sonica Dac was still born with a substandard chip set that is not upgradable to MQA.. This cost them the market in Streaming Devices..

NoHoR56's picture

OMG will you stop with this!!! How many posts on this have you made now? I've heard MQA demo'd 3 times. It's good but it doesn't remotely make anything obsolete. Anyone can buy an Explorer 2 for $200 if they absolutely have to have it. It's like your best friend was murdered with a Sonica Dac or something... Provide some specific data to prove your point or please let it go.

Trosclair73's picture

"We also know of no streamed programs offering lossless audio, either DTS HD-Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD."

Uh, Kaleidescape offers lossless audio via streaming. Not cheap but it is offered and they are the only ones.

https://www.kaleidescape.com/strato-movie-player/

brenro's picture

The way I understand it Kaleidescape movies are downloaded to a hard drive rather than streamed.

Billy's picture

Always loved the interface, but it is still a rich mans toy. I use Kodi with tens of terabytes of my DVD and Blurays ripped, not quite as cool, but pretty damn close, and by far cheaper. Plus, if it needs debugging, I am my own free support. (Never tried the add ons, too much temptation for mischief there, but the streaming does look tempting. Luckily there are so many legal and well priced streaming options the temptation is low. Funny, lots of illegal streaming options for Kodi, but try to get Netflix!! I wish Hollywood made full bitrate downloads available for a good price, that would be the best of all worlds. By not doing so and hitting you the same price you would pay for an actual disc that has none of the associated costs, it is pure greed and asks some people to cheat.)

ChicGeek's picture

I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY with your suggestion that "full bitrate downloads" (by which, I take it, that you mean a copy of the movie EXACTLY as it appears on the retail version of the disc) be made available to the buying public.

I, like you, also rip ALL of my purchased Blu-Rays and DVDs to my multi-tens-of-terabytes server -- which runs "Emby Server" (yet, another poor-man's Kaleidescape clone) instead of Kodi. I would absolutely LOVE being able to skip the steps of acquiring the disc, ripping the disc and storing the disc -- which I MUST keep, because, 1) hard-drives do FAIL, after all; AND, 2) because the MPAA [jerks that they are] has been known to go after the "little" guy if he can't [sometimes, even if he can] show where all those copies on his computer came from!)

So, selling to me the right to download a UHD or HD version of a movie or TV show, with a DTS Master HD/DTS:X or a Dolby TrueHD/Atmos soundtrack, in perpetuity, would be GREATLY appreciated!

(Also, if any of you Hollywood types are reading this: since you don't trust us "little guys", you can mark each copy sold with a unique digital "watermark" that is tied to the original purchaser of the movie. This "watermark" would allow you to track any copies found in the "wild" back to their source! In addition, you could market this option as the "Premium" version [you know, having ENHANCED picture and sound] -- plus, since you already have the bits (i.e.-the movie or TV show in question) available, this is just an ADDITIONAL revenue stream for money that has ALREADY been spent! Heck, you could even charge an additional "access" fee for those who want to view the bits directly from your servers, instead of first downloading the bits to their own computer! See, there's money on table, just waiting for you to pick it up!)

Billy's picture

The Chinese have a history of buying out companies and then dropping support for older products in that line. Ask anyone with an older MTD or Murray mower who needs parts for an American made model. Heck, they don't stock many parts for the current stuff they build. Most of what they make is low quality, not worth repairing, that is the business model. I see this as a bad situation if you have an Oppo, but hopefully it is so well made it will never go bad. Firmware, now there's an even more pressing issue.

true audio's picture

If you want access to MQA, subscribe to TIDAL and their desktop app will let you stream 96/24 (Master files). I run this through JRiver and with modification of it's (DSP ). Very happy with the quality. I also hated to see Oppo go. But like the Pioneer Kuro....gone and we all know why.

Traveler's picture

Disks are rapidly becoming the new vinyl (ie irrelevant to all but a few people). This would be fine except so many titles aren't available online. I just hope Netflix keeps providing their great service.

Stosh's picture

(As someone else commented, it would be nice to be able to edit comments here, if one wants to correct misspelling or add something to their comment.)

And I would like to add - I doubt if Oppo has a large enough market share to have any real impact on the player market. I don't know what their market share is, but considering the fact that their products are on the high end, price wise, I doubt if the are (were?) a major player (no pun intended) in the market. So why would their departure have any effect on the disk market?

NoHoR56's picture

I think the concern is not that Oppo's market share would have an impact on the disc market, it's that their demise may PORTEND the demise of the disc market. In a canary in a coal mind kind of way. Oppo is an excellent company and the people who buy their players are video and audio enthusiasts. They get outstanding reviews, they get repeat customers, yet they will no longer be making new players. I, for one, own an 83 and a 105D. Once I upgrade to a 4K projector it was a foregone conclusion that I would buy a 4K Oppo to feed it. Now that will not be an option. And the chances of my future choices being better than an Oppo are not good.

ChicGeek's picture

Forget about being BETTER than an Oppo -- hoping that ANY future player will be even HALF as good as a current Oppo seems HIGHLY unrealistic!

Stosh's picture

First, I want to state that the comment you replied to was the second one I posted here. But for whatever reason the first one never appeared. I have no idea why. But if my comment sounded weird, that is why. I'm not going to resend my first comment, mostly because I don't remember everything I said in it!

I really don't think Oppo leaving the market is significant, again because of their market share. Only audiophiles and videophiles bought them, due to their higher prices, and the fact is that most people today are satisfied with less than stellar audio performance. The $300 and under players are "good enough" for most people.

I do mourn their loss, though; I own two of their players myself, a BDP-103D and a BDP-105 and wouldn't trade them for any other players on the market. I was even considering buying one of their 4K players now, but it will probably be a few years until I upgrade my TV to a 4K model, so I doubt if it would be worth buying one at this time.

I still think physical formats will not die anytime in the near future, if ever. There are a lot of people that like to be able to hold things in their hands, and have physical collections of things (not just music or video, either; people collect all kinds of things). Besides, no matter how much the streaming services brag about their content, the quality of their video just doesn't come close to that which a disk provides. I have blazing fast internet, and I still see way too many artifacts in streaming video. Plus moving around a movie, forward or back, is way too difficult with streaming. But I guess once again that is "good enough" for a lot of people.

The biggest loss to me with Oppo leaving the market is that we will no longer have high-quality equipment available to us, unless someone steps in to fill that empty space. But it may not be financially worth it for them to do so. It's a real shame.

scottsol's picture

Disc versions often have commentary tracks and supplemental materials. In addition, streaming titles whose rights belong to Starz will be transmitted in the 1.78 aspect ratio regardless of the OAR.

mdanderson's picture

I much prefer the quality of my Oppo 205 when playing a UHD disc compared to streaming a 4k movie. There is no comparison. I have Hulu live tv and the streaming quality is so inconsistent. I have a good internet connection but does not make a big difference. I know I will get many more years of enjoyment from my Oppo with video and espically with audio. Music in sacd and dvd audio sounds very good.

John CE's picture

I am amazed that a question, that is really about whether package media is in danger of going away, turned into a full blown discussion about OPPO.

Packaged media's real problem is its price. For a long time the price of packaged media fell after a few years for each type, whether it was CD, DVD, or Blu-ray. About five years ago it started going up. Why? The movie studios got careless in greenlighting films that did not appeal to anyone. To make matters worse, they pay bad actors a lot of money to act poorly. Somehow they had to cover their cost. Let's be real. It shouldn't cost anymore to make the actual 4K Blu-ray disc than it does to make a DVD. The cost is from making the actual movie. If it doesn't do well at the box office, the studio needs to make up its loss somewhere. I believe that if the price of Packaged media was low enough, more people would buy it. It does give you the best possible picture.

Though I considered buying an OPPO 4K player when I bought my OLED TV, I decided on the SONY X800. I don't have any regrets.

dmoor's picture

I just stopped by Oppo headquarters in Menlo Park to pick up the 203 I ordered in case they don't make another 205 run. Turns out looks as if they will, June ordering for July - August delivery.

In response to the question about why they were shutting down, it wasn't streaming but high production costs that caused the closure. UHD players are selling at about the same rate as Blu-Ray players at this time in their lifecycle, so it isn't an issue of the market going away. The problem was the cost of Oppo Asia setting up a production line for a product run. If they were selling products in high volume it wouldn't have been a problem. However there is only a limited high end market, and the small volumes that they could produce versus the price that they could charge just didn't give them enough profit.

So they decided to shutdown to preserve cash, so that they can continue to support and service existing customers for the next 2-3 years.

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