Facebook Bets on Smart Video Calling with Portal Displays | Digitized House

Facebook Bets on Smart Video Calling with Portal Displays

From the new line of hardware from Facebook, the Portal+ features smart two-way video capability on a 15-in. screen. Image: Facebook.

Putting a new face on the social network, Facebook has announced its Portal line of countertop video displays and cameras, designed to enable video calling with Facebook friends or Messenger contacts. Clearly ideated to embrace the video-everywhere mantra of the Menlo Park company, the two-way communications devices also enable access to music services, video content, news, and other services yet to be developed.

The 10-in. Portal (left) and the 15-in. Portal+ are the first hardware offerings from the new Portal unit at Facebook. Both feature an integral Amazon Alexa assistant. Image: Facebook.
The 10-in. Portal (left) and the 15-in. Portal+ (right) are the first offerings from the new Portal hardware unit at Facebook. Both feature an integral Amazon Alexa assistant. Image: Facebook.

Portal and Portal+ Versions

Available in Portal and Portal+ variations, the first tabletop devices consist of a video display, smart camera, microphones, and speakers. Both are designed to be hands free, and have the Amazon Alexa assistant built in to enable voice commands for video calling. The devices respond to voice commands beginning with the “Hey Portal” prefix. Furthermore, by association with Alexa they deliver broad voice activation capability for controlling smart home accessories, sports scores, checking on the weather, and much more as bounded only by the Amazon engine.

Both Portal devices grant voice-activated access to Facebook friends and Messenger contacts for two-way video calling. Image: Facebook.
Both Portal devices grant voice-activated access to Facebook friends and Messenger contacts for two-way video calling. Image: Facebook.

The Portal is an Amazon Echo Show-type device, with a fixed, iPad-sized 10-in. landscape display giving 1280 x 800 resolution. The Portal+ does plus-sized in a big way, with a 15-in. 1920 x 1080 pivoting display that can rotate 90 degrees to better fit the desired scene.

The integral smart camera has a pan-and-zoom capability with an AI-assisted follow-me capability that keeps the human subjects centered in the frame. And in a nod to the obvious questions about Facebook privacy, there is a flip-down camera lens cover for positive video blocking.

With the onboard Amazon Alexa assistant, Portal devices—like the Portal+ shown here in portrait mode—can deliver a broad array of Alexa services. Image: Facebook.
With the onboard Amazon Alexa assistant, Portal devices—like the Portal+ shown here in portrait mode—can deliver a broad array of Alexa services, such as weather forecasts. Image: Facebook.

In a pseudo-nod to the popular Apple Animoji feature, Facebook has included Story Time, a story-telling feature that can add augmented reality (AR) effects to the subject of a video call. This takes advantage of the Facebook Spark AR platform.

More Privacy Features

The Smart Camera on Portal devices can be blocked with a flip-down lens cover for privacy. Image: Facebook.
The Smart Camera on Portal devices can be blocked with a flip-down lens cover for privacy. Image: Facebook.

In addition to the camera lens cover, the camera and microphone can be disabled with a tap. Within the home, Portal can also be secured with a numeric passcode that can only be changed from the connected Facebook account.

Facebook also states they will not listen to, view, or retain content from video calls made through the device.

November Availability

The Portal can be pre-ordered for an estimated November delivery at a cost of $199. Portal+ can also be pre-ordered for November delivery at a cost of $349. In addition to selling them through the new Portal website, Facebook says the new devices will be available from Amazon and BestBuy.

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Tom Kolnowski
Chief Content Officer & Founder
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.

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