Facebook brings its networked device strategy to the TV. The company today announced Portal TV, an accessory that brings the company's video wide-angle chat to the largest screen in the house. Portal TV will ship from Nov. 5 for $ 149. You can also bundle two portal devices and save $ 50.
Portal TV is one of three intelligent video chat devices that the company announces today. You can read about the others here – the 10-inch portal and the 8-inch mini portal. The largest model of the device, the Portal Plus introduced last year, is still available.
Connect the portal to your TV via the HDMI port, log in to your Facebook account, and make calls using Messenger and WhatsApp. WhatsApp calls are encrypted end to end. This may be a selling point for people who want more security that Facebook does not mine the content of their calls for advertising or other purposes. (Other people will continue to reject the idea of a Facebook camera and a microphone in their home.)
The device, which resembles a slimmed-down Microsoft Kinect, uses the Smart Camera from Facebook technology to pan and zoom when people in the room are in the call. This is especially useful for young children who keep taking a back seat to other video chat calls, Facebook managers told reporters on Tuesday at a product demonstration in San Francisco.
You can disable the camera and microphone with a tap of the finger or a sliding cover on the front of the device. Like other smart speakers, Facebook reviews a subset of anonymized records and has them listened to by human reviewers to improve the service. You can now disable this recording feature in the app's settings. (For more information on the device's privacy features, see the Facebook Declaration on this topic.)
If you're ready to make a call, you can say "Hey Portal" to turn it on and call someone Network. Once the call is live, you can apply augmented reality effects to your face and voice. These are taken over into the device's "Story Time" feature, which lets you tell children's books as you put on various virtual costumes.
Portal TV also introduces a new picture-in-picture mode that lets you keep track of friends and family members while watching another show. Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, who runs Facebook's AR and Virtual Reality products, told me he could imagine using this feature to watch a Facebook broadcast with his dad. (The picture-in-picture mode currently works only with the original Facebook series, although the company is working to transfer it to other streaming services.)
You can also download Amazon Prime Video, Showtime, and CBS All Access View other streaming services If you are using Portal TV, you may not have access to these services through a streaming stick, setup box, smart TV, or video game console.
For people who spend a lot of time chatting with friends or family or want to do more, Portal TV may be worth a look. The way the camera records and tracks recordings is rightly impressive. The TV screen allows larger families to communicate with everyone in the living room in ways that a phone or desktop computer can not match.
Facebook's hardware products are likely to continue to be subject to privacy concerns. But the bigger problem for them might be that their home hardware rivals – Amazon, Google and Apple – are so far ahead of building an installation base.
Last but not least, Portal TV is a product that none of these competitors have built: a TV camera that blends seamlessly with your network of friends and family. Whether it succeeds on a large scale or not, I expect Facebook to keep trying. His rivals are building a new social infrastructure within the house using voice and video chat, and Facebook can not afford not to compete.