Wrestling fans around the world were eagerly-anticipating the launch of WWE’s online network today. The launch was marred by many signup hangups and problems, with WWE eventually taking the sign up page down for a bit to fix things. About an hour later, signups worked far better and I was able to log into my WWE account and then convert it to a Network account. While the six-month commitment may scare some off, it does only charge you $10 per month at a time – not $60 at one time covering six months as originally thought. That $10 gets you every WWE, WCW, and ECW PPV minus the co-promoted ones with AAA in Mexico and New Japan Pro Wrestling from WCW. Video quality for the live broadcast is fantastic, and looks around on-par with traditional TV viewing.
The day-one lineup includes all of the old PPVs, which have shockingly good video quality and are probably aided by only needing to be upscaled to 480p tops and thus taking up far less bandwitch. Viewing WCW Hog Wild’s event from 1996 resulted in a lot of buffering, and some amusing things with the caption. Clicking the right stick brought them up, which revealed that Mike Tenay’s call of “Jushin Liger” was interpreted as “Fusion Life”. While that sounds like a healthy energy drink (and may very well be one), it’s certainly not the name of a wrestler. So far, the WCW PPVs are reported to have a lot of buffering problems along with ECW content, while WWE’s stuff is apparently much smoother.
I tested this out with Armageddon ’99, which also showed off the somewhat weird newest-to-oldest layout. While it makes sense in a way, it is weird for wrestling fans who tend to keep things in an oldest-to-newest layout on shelf setups. For WCW events, they use high-quality thumbnails from the promotional posters for the artwork, and it is hilarious at times. WCW’s early PPVs did not feature much of a an ad budget and used really horrible-looking artwork that almost resembled the wrestlers if they went for an artist’s rendering. In some instances, they don’t have any artwork up – leading to a generic WWE Network logo that is at least serviceable. The on-demand browsing is easy to navigate and the PS4 app and WWE Network site are just about identical visually, so it’s a very easy transition to go from one to the other.
The on-demand lineup is incredible for PPV events, which is where the main value is for the network. The TV and archival stuff is a bit of a letwdown, as you only have scattered MSG house shows, a random assortment of ECW Hardcore TV from the early days, no WCW TV programming, one World Class Championship Wrestling show, three Legends of Wrestling roundtable panels, and that’s it for old stuff. You do get the past month of Raw, SmackDown, and a few episodes of those, NXT, Main Event, and two eps of Superstars. Surprisingly, there isn’t an archive of that available despite the live NXT special being hyped up a lot since it will be opposing TNA Impact on Thursday night. There also isn’t an archive of WWE’s ECW TV show, which would be fun to go through with Batista’s return bombing and his match with Big Show at the Hammerstein Ballroom getting one of the most passionate reactions you’ll ever hear on a wrestling show.
The video quality for streaming is far better than Hulu for NXT and on-par with DVDs for older events, although unlike Netflix, you can’t go back and resume content after stopping and going back to something. This is certainly something to keep in mind if you just want to check out a smattering of content, although you can just zoom through things with the d-pad, it’s a pain to get the OSD to go away. One nice thing would be if they allowed you to go through each event match-by-match, since there are tons of one-match shows out there that aren’t worth going through in full, and you just want to check out a few things from it. The entire home video archive was hyped up as being available, but none of it’s hear beyond PPVs and the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart: Greatest Rivalries documentary – so if you were buying this to get rid of the documentary DVDs, now may not be the time to do so. Closed-captioning being included is a surprise, and while it’s not perfect, it does allow for the hearing-impaired to enjoy the programming more than they otherwise would be able to. Audio-wise, everything is as it should be – although the sound effects for going through the menus could use some changing. The ones used for going through and then selecting content are really grating and harsh.
On day one, the WWE Network launch hasn’t been perfect, but offers up an unbeatable deal for wrestling fans. With live streaming becoming a major way to consume content, it makes sense for WWE to make this network just available through those means and allows fans to de-clutter their houses by clearing out shelves and shelves of DVDs. While A-level shows are always worth keeping since this thing won’t be around for ever, you can safely get rid of B-level shows or impulse buys just picked up due to a sale. If you’re a fan of the industry, give this a shot – the video quality is far beyond what I expected, and I’m a huge VQ snob. There are a lot of rough edges, but none hurt the overall value of the service.