You will NOT find a better transport for $50. And I am saying this, since I own the Oppo 970 HD. I am sure the 981 is a step up. Go for it!
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I own one that I bought when it 1st came out. It's a workhorse and it's audio/video is very good. But it was cheap when I bought it, you might want to check Ebay to get an idea what they're going for these days. The display isn't good and the disc tray feels flimsy to the touch. But the performance outshines the build quality by a lot!! Mine's in the bedroom!;)