IRVINE - Western Digital, the company known for its hard drives, is launching a new product today, a router that it says can make watching online movies and playing online games go zippier.
The My Net line of routers, which start at $80, are designed to emphasize video viewing and gaming and to route the signal to those endeavors, essentially shifting the majority of the bandwidth to entertainment. Western Digital says its router will help with sites such as Netflix and Hulu so that programming runs in full high-definition from the start.
Western Digital began expanding beyond hard drives a few years ago with its line of WD TV media players, which shift online programming to the TV. Executives say that experience helped it figure out a way to speed up the router. WD TV gave "us valuable insights into the network-overload problems of home wireless users," says Jim Welsh, Western Digital executive vice president.
To get programming displayed to viewers more quickly, without buffering, services such as Hulu and Netflix often will show the programs in standard-definition, and then if the signal is good shift over to HD, says Western Digital.
The company cites statistics from market researcher Nielsen that 33% of online consumers in the fourth quarter of 2011 streamed a movie or TV show and that 70% of all online usage in the evening is spent watching entertainment.
The first thing consumers will notice with one of Western Digital's new routers "is that suddenly their movies look better, for no apparent reason," says Scott Vouri, WD vice president. "Except that now we're accelerating and prioritizing the movie services."
At a demonstration at Western Digital headquarters here, the company played an episode of NBC's The Office via Netflix using its router, alongside another router from a competitor. It wasn't that the episode played any faster - but what was apparent was that The Office via WD's product began showing in HD quicker than the competitor.
While the products start at $80, they go all the way up to $350 for the My Net N900, which besides the router also has a built-in 2-terabyte hard drive.