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Retail Therapy… July 31, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : General , trackback

Let’s see; the checklist for 2008 thus far…

There was the computer crash, which took down all the terminals in the office and at one point threatened the entire business. My fault. Well, Mr Gates and I will actually share the blame. I get all the credit for sorting it…balanced out by it costing us an unnecessary three figure sum and several dead working days. Strike one.

I barely had time to congratulate myself on what turned out to be no more than a harrowing experience, rather than a life changing one, than our home was burgled, while we slept. Electrical goods, clothing, credit cards, cash, laptops and more, all bundled into the family MPV - the keys being handily placed for the intruders to find - and then driven into the night. After hitting our gatepost and leaving part of the car on the drive as a souvenir. Strike two.

Panic ensued, not surprisingly, with chez Hodson being kitted out with a brand new, and very expensive, state of the art Alarm System that, amongst other features, rings us up to tell us if the house is being ransacked.

Or if it’s accidentally triggered at 4am by my dozy son. Oh, how I laughed…

First time we venture from Hodson Towers after the theft, my ‘phone rings and I very nearly have a pulmonary embolism. The thoughts of leaving these shores and having the alarm call me up to tell me in that monotone computer drawl that some recidivist scrote is thumbing through my DVD collection - dear God, take anything but my copy of The Searchers - while I’m an impotent 2,000 miles away, means we may never holiday again. I’m considering holing up in the dining room with a loaded shotgun. ‘Cept I need to sleep. And I don’t own a shotgun. Damn my insomnia proof, pacifist hide!

Meanwhile, the car insurance company, determined to get its pound of flesh from somewhere, asks for a copy of my driving license so that they can ‘put the claim to bed’. Like a lamb to the slaughter I happily do so, and a 19-year-old call centre monkey ’phones me up to tell me I’m a ‘very naughty boy’. I failed to declare a speeding ticket that West Yorkshire Police (lying in ambush at 7am - a few yards from a derestricted sign and safety - just outside Leeds) slapped on me in 1991. Seventeen bloody years ago. The insurance company wants it’s money back for the years that I ‘benefited from cheaper car insurance’. I suddenly feel like Nick Leeson; you’ll never take me alive, copper…

The Ford Motor Company meanwhile, cannot immediately replace my vehicle. It will be a ‘few weeks’; apparently demand is so high in Russia and China for the minions of oligarchs in Moscow and the thrusting young turks of Beijing’s tiger economy that Ford can’t build ‘em fast enough, and Brits must wait their turn to get MPV’d up. I still haven’t got it. It will be ’soon’.

Good job; allows us breathing space to shell out for the new outside security lights, the fencing and lockable side and rear gates. The wrought iron specialist asked Mrs H whether she wanted ‘balls or spikes’ atop the side gate; Silly question; of course, she wants the thieves balls on the spikes. Mrs H asked, Lady Macbeth like, if the spikes could be specially sharpened and dipped in a swift acting, extremely painful, snake venom for which there is no known antidote. Not an option, however. Sadly.

We fax the gate company with the suggestion. Look out for their Black Mamba line come 2009.

The toaster and microwave pack in; irritating. What next? I idly enquire of the Gods. You don’t want to know, they reply out of my hearing…

If only we’d have remembered the bottle of wine and not had to turn back for it. If only it hadn’t have been at rush hour, and I hadn’t been rushing. If only I’d have ignored the nice little old lady in the Peugeot who stopped and beckoned me into the gap in the traffic that she’d left (she was, I now know a succubus from Hades). If only I’d have been paying much closer attention to the line of traffic coming down her outside. And not pulled out straight in front of that big white Mazda Taxi. Ouch.

The poor bugger didn’t stand a chance. In one of those adagio moments, I see everything in an ultimate clarity; the driver’s face contorted as he wrenches the wheel, his teeth clamped hard at the physical exertion of stamping with all his strength on the brake pedal. Out of the corner of my eye, I note my daughter’s face buried in her hands. I sit there, zen-like, for the inevitable outcome. Motionless. I don’t recall there being any sound as glass, metal and plastic burrows deep into the side of the car I’m in; it’s almost like an ‘out of body’ experience. The driver of the taxi shakes his head, and I respond with a weak and totally inadequate ’sorry…’ People stand around and gawp; not one person offers any help, though there is, in truth, none that they can give. I look at them, they look at me. Now I know how a goldfish feels.

My wife’s car is now pretty much wrecked, though happily no-one has suffered any injury. The front wheel of her Citröen hanging at a nasty, spastic angle, our cars entwined as lovers. Someone shoot me now.

So here I am, my daughter very bravely adding my name to her insurance so that I can get about. And I drive Mrs H to get a hire car (’It’s HOW much!?’), in Katie’s cute little Renault. With the pink carpets and accoutrements, and the sparkly fairy tiara on the dash. Someone shoot me now - please? I call about my car on a daily basis; ’soon’ they say. Strike three - you’re out…

I need cheering up. Family expenses through the roof, right now I would, of course, be foolish in the extreme to spend money on anything more than necessities. I understand this. Completely; do I look stupid?

I order a new $399 DVD player.

Oppo DV-983H

It’s either that, Prozac or therapy, I really, really, can’t afford therapy, and I hate taking tablets. Besides, I don’t know any therapists with as many Michael Ripper films as I, and I’m not entirely sure that Prozac would allow me the benefit of watching my DVDs in upscaled 1080p. At least, it mentions nothing pertaining to such on the pack. Er, or so I’m told.

So, an Oppo DV-983H it is then; I’ve uhmmed and aahhed long enough, considered buying a Blu-ray player, but my obscenely humongous collection of SD discs - many of which will never see the light transferred to BD - deserves the best I can give it (that’s what the voice in my head keeps saying; obey the voice). The best at a time when we can least afford it. ‘Twas ever thus - I think I may get them to carve it on my headstone.

The Oppo will go nicely with the new monitor. Didn’t I mention that? Silly me.

The burglars very neatly (so neatly that I half expected to find a calling card a la ‘Sir Charles Phantom, the famous Lytton’…) unhooked our Toshiba LCD and hauled it to their - my - transport. The 42″ set cost over £1,600 just two years ago, but such is the march of time and technology, it was already showing signs of being very much out of date (or so I kept telling anyone that would listen. Which was no-one as it happens). Only a few days previous to the theft, I’d been mulling over how to gently persuade Mrs H that it might be replaced. Be careful what you wish for.

The house insurance company offer us a ‘like for like’ replacement. Except, instead of a ‘top of the range’ Toshiba - which it was just 27 months prior to being appropriated for drug money by a desperate junkie (police theory) - we are offered a near bottom of the range model. We take the cash value - £720, which is some depreciation to swallow, but swallow we must - and decide to put it towards something better. A quick look round (and you have to be quick because technology doesn’t exactly march as sprint these days) and we plump for a Samsung A656; because they don’t do a 42″ model, we’ll be getting a 46″ model instead. Corrrr!

It’s two days before the UEFA Champions League Final and we go to buy our new telly, from Costco, because of the excellent price, the 90-days no quibble return policy and the five year guarantee. They have none. But they do have a 52″ model - totally outrageous because it will be too big; the 42″ model was vulgar enough, but crikey Moses, with the 52″ there can be no place to hide your shame. Should ‘Ideal Home’ come to call, can you throw a sheet over it and call it a Matisse? I think not…

It is now 29 hours to kick-off, Sir Alex Ferguson needs me standing in front of my TV screaming for my team, telling them they are totally bloody useless, and won’t someone please - please - turn this stupid thing off?! At least he did in 1999. So we arrange to have the 52″ delivered; and buggeration to what the neighbours think. It is in place with hours to spare, and the rest is history. It was a damn close run thing and the denizens of Old Trafford will never know the debt they owe me; after the match, I need sponging down and a good rest in a darkened room. Football is hell.

There follows weeks and weeks of playing with the flippin’ thing, tweaking, calibrating, changing settings again and again. And again. Once upon a time, your TV came, you switched it on and either your colour was set so high that it looked like a very poor early two-strip Technicolor movie, or it was muted so low that it resembled a gently fading sepia tone lithograph. Up a lot, or down a lot; that was extent of ‘calibration’. No more, gentle reader, this is the freaky deaky technology-zone known as the 21st century, where fridges come with an internet connection.

Modern TVs have a host of confusing controls to cope with a host of conditions, environments and the variety of techno-freaks who suffer from OCD and buy large screen TVs. AKA ‘men’. And there are few LCDs on the market right now blessed with as many picture controls as the Samsung ‘6′ Series; not just brightness and colour, oh deary me no, nothing so mundane - we can control the ‘Colour Space’, the ‘Gamma’, the ‘Facial Tones’, the ‘White Balance’, the ‘HDMI Black Levels’, the ‘Tachyon Emitter’ (okay, I made that one up…) and the ‘Dynamic Contrast’ (which we subsequently learn is A Very Bad Thing. Apparently the AV Police come and take you away should you even think of touching any digital whatchermacallits). On and on, a whole host of gadgets to play with…and drive the family totally nuts. And I do, gentle reader. And how.

This is almost as good as my esoteric hi-fi days, except back then buying British - Scottish - gear was de rigeur. And keeping your CDs in the freezer was considered a major tweak. Well, it was cheap (which is more than can be said for the Scottish gear). I digress.

I can even update the firmware, which Samsung issues to solve the inevitable problems (because, as we all know, we are all beta testers now…). To check which firmware you have, you must access the Service Menu. Accessing the Service Menu, says Samsung apparently, invalidates the warranty. So, if I update the firmware, how to check if I have been successful and the serial number of my new firmware is correct? You have to go into the Service Menu. Can’t you hear Joseph Heller chuckling? Isn’t this just brilliant.

Apparently, I can pay to have my set calibrated professionally. A well-read chap will come to my house and set my TV up for me, tell me what’s good and bad; not what I like, you understand, but what is right. And I’m interested in what is right. How much? Around £300, depending on the distance. I lose interest verrry quickly. Besides, he may have to go into the Service Menu, and that’s another Very Bad Thing as we now know. I need a rulebook; quick.

But I play and play, and eventually, come across a whole bunch of settings which appear to be ideal for my monitor; I’m astonished that the picture looks as good as it does. There are the usual LCD caveats; it does look better in a room with at least some ambient lighting, but it’s substantially better than the Toshiba, which, I decide, Burglar Bill (I’m guessing; it could be Intruder Ian, or Light-fingered Larry…) is more than welcome to. SD or broadcast HD (and trust me, just a few weeks ago, I hadn’t a clue what most of these terms meant), it’s quite excellent. 52″ too big? Like hell it is…

However (and there always is a ‘however’ in these situations), the extra inches seem to be a little too much for our two years old Oppo DV-971H, a multi-region upscaling DVD player much lauded on release, and which has proved to be utterly reliable. When Oppo unveiled their flagship 983 model earlier this year, they were at pains to point out that users with screens of 50″ and above would benefit most from this most muscular deck. Suddenly, as a brand new member of that club, I began to see their point. And here, by the way, was the proof I needed to show Mrs H that we needed - we simply had to - replace our utterly reliable, up to this point, quite excellent DVD player. Which wasn’t even broken. I contemplated dropping it for good measure.

I agonised over what to do, should I spend the money, should I keep the wallet closed. Think of the poor starving children, the ravaged planet Earth. The greenhouse gases, the dwindling rainforests, the melting polar icecaps, the…

Screw ‘em. I ordered one. Forgive me, Sting, mea culpa Al Gore.

First I placed my order with a UK company; neither they, nor Oppo itself out in Mountain View, California, had any stock. And as the expected ship date slipped, then slipped again, I switched my option to Oppo direct. Within 24 hours of placing myself on their notification list, a thumbs up email arrived, the order was placed and within four days, I got the shipping notice. Five more days it was here; our (well, to be honest, my) reward for being burgled, having my car nicked, smashing up my wife’s car, allowing the toaster and microwave (no toast and scrambled egg for me, then) to break and for failing to negotiate ’super economy’ deals with any number of workmen shoring up chez Hodson’s creaking defences. It pays to be bad.

That was Monday last. Like all men, I love these toys; I love to tinker with them, sweat and strain to hook them up, twiddle the knobs to get their output perfect, then twiddle ‘em some more just for the hell of it. It’s sheer bliss. After 24 hours, I discovered I had the speakers wired up incorrectly (around the time Clint Eastwood threw something in front of him and the sound came from behind my head) and had to dismantle the whole spaghetti mess of wires and start again. Even more bliss.

The Oppo itself? Well, I can only use the cliché that it is a ‘jaw-dropping experience’. I can’t describe how much better a machine it is than the 971, you’d have to judge that yourself, but the second part of the whole ‘let’s buy the best for our SD collection, then get a Blu-ray player’ plan has now gone on the back burner. Mrs H, who happily admits she cannot tell the difference between broadcast SD and HD (it’s a ‘Venus and Mars’ thang…), and frankly couldn’t give a hoot in hell about such matters actually volunteered the information that the 983 was a huge improvement on the 971. A first. My flabber had never been so gasted; someone pass the salts…

Not content with the ‘Mrs H Seal of Approval’, the Oppo has been winning accolade after accolade, scoring an unprecedented top score in a Secrets of Home Theater test, and is said to play SD DVDs better than not only rivals costing breathtaking sums, but also any current BD player; the fact that it can also play them from any region without trauma also gives it a distinct edge over most fancied Blu-ray decks.

Colours are beautifully lush and true, the picture is so much more incredibly detailed (how can they do that?), digital artifacts have simply disappeared and once problem discs are a problem no more, non-anamorphic discs are born again. Sonically, the Oppo actually outperforms our Yamaha DSP-A1 amplifier on the decoding front; the Yamaha was a bit of a beast in it’s day, but using analogue connections from the DVD player to the amp and letting the Oppo decode is a real improvement on the previous digital coax set up.

My Bought & Watched page reflects some of the titles I’ve been revisiting (yes, the first was The Searchers), all of which have been eye-wateringly gorgeous, and that’s not listing the chunks of other films that I’ve played, knowing that they contain previously difficult material, edging my seat closer and closer to drink in each new delight. I am truly gob-smacked each time I boot one up.

Can the leap to HD, particularly for the type of films that we want to watch, be that great, that much more stunning? Possibly, but the yen to find out has eased considerably. My DVD collection has, you will be pleased to know, been revitalised and saved for this proud nation. And I can now wait for the whole messy BD business to level out. Huzzah!

Is the Oppo DV-983H worth the money? You betcha, at twice the price even (hush now, don’t tell Oppo). Would I go through the whole of 2008’s trials and tribulations again, just to reach this point?

Are you mad? This is film, we’re talking about…

Oppo Digital’s website is here, and DVD Times excellent and detailed review of the Oppo DV-983H is here.


1. clydefro - July 31, 2008

Applause John. That was far more fun to read than it would have been to experience, I’m sure. Glad you made it through with your sanity and humor intact.

The only downside from here is that now I’m wanting a $400 DVD player I have no business getting.

2. John Hodson - July 31, 2008

Hand on heart, I cannot conceive of anyone who owns a substantial number of older movies on SD getting an Oppo DV-983H and regretting the decision; go on, you know you want to… ;)

Thanks for posting clydefro.

3. primus - August 1, 2008

John, what a tale - talk about the ’slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’; I don’t think you could have made it up if you had wanted to. And yes, I too am now seriously interested in your Oppo 983 - or rather an Oppo 983, not your specific one! - although I seriously need to upgrade my TV set first…

4. John Hodson - August 1, 2008

Keep your hands off my Oppo! I have a remote control, and I’m not afraid to use it…

Seriously, I write of a little bad luck, but nothing more. I’m rather more concerned to hear that my friend, DVD Times reviewer and fellow Filmjournal blogger Mike Sutton isn’t feeling too well right now, and I’m sure we all pass on our very best wishes to him for a speedy recovery.

5. Mike - August 2, 2008

Sorry to hear about your troubles John, but hey it sounds like it (sort of, very sort of) worked out for the best, or at least with a smile on your face, or should that be our faces?

6. Michael Brooke - August 6, 2008

My Oppo 983 finally turned up yesterday, about a month after I ordered it - I suspect it was from the same UK company that you turned down, but I wasn’t in any hurry as I won’t have a 1080P set to plug it into until it’s installed today.

The real challenge will be grabbing an hour or two tonight to set everything up properly before tearing the shrinkwrapping off the Blu-Ray ‘Planet Earth’ - my wife has already called me a “geeky ponce” for even so much as suggesting that the new telly might need more elaborate tweaking than the brightness knob. Still, I’m hugely grateful to her for agreeing to let us blow a fair chunk of the next few months’ household budget on a Blu-Ray/Oppo 983/HDTV setup in the first place, so I can’t complain too much.

And I absolutely echo your best wishes to Mike Sutton, who I must have known online for at least a decade.

7. John Hodson - August 6, 2008

We’re all ‘Geeps’ (geeky ponces) now…

To appreciate just how good the Oppo is, you need to watch something you are utterly familiar with first, with a handkerchief tied securely around your head, Jacob Marley style, to prevent your jaw slapping against your chest.

Stuff you’ve not viewed first through another player can’t give you a proper frame of reference, obviously, hence my puzzling last night over Fox prefacing their presentation of ‘Frontier Marshal’ with a warning about the transfer - it looked fantastic (though I suspect it still probably looks good on pretty much anything). Let us know what you think about the Oppo.

Out of interest, which TV and which BD player did you choose Michael? As I recall you had something of a ‘monster’ set previously.

Thanks for posting Michael (and Mike).

8. Michael Brooke - August 6, 2008

The Oppo is STAGGERINGLY good. Three of the telly’s ports are filled with:

(1) a bog-standard PVR (through SCART)
(2) the Oppo (via HDMI)
(3) a Playstation 3 (via HDMI).

You’d expect (1) and (2) to be broadly similar thanks to the source resolution, and (3) to be miles ahead, but in fact (2) is much much closer to (3). 1080P Blu-Ray clearly still has the edge, but I can’t believe how good normal DVDs look.

Out of interest, which TV and which BD player did you choose Michael? As I recall you had something of a ‘monster’ set previously.

I had (and still have) a 43″ Toshiba 4:3 rear projection set, which is in my office. The new HDTV is replacing our old 28″ domestic set - we went for a Panasonic TH42PZ80 because it did literally everything I wanted (1080p, 24fps, plasma, not much else) for a price far lower than I’d budgeted for (£750 from Richer Sounds).

In fact, it was because the telly was much cheaper than I’d expected (I’d assumed £1000-1200) that we decided to splash out on the Oppo.

9. John Hodson - August 6, 2008

Hmmm; good isn’t it? I read all the positive reviews, all the comments, I was sold from the moment it came out, but I STILL wasn’t prepared for just how good the Oppo is. It’s just nice to buy something that, for once, is not simply as brilliant as they say, but actually exceeds expectations.


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