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Facebook Announces Portal TV, Video Calling Device for the Home

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Facebook announced three new versions of its Portal video calling device today, including one meant for the biggest screen in the house. Portal TV will sell for $149 when it begins shipping on November 5. With it, Facebook members can make video calls to friends and family using Facebook Messenger. The social network is also adding WhatsApp calling to Portal.

News 2A picture-in-picture feature lets friends watch a program together, while keeping each other in view. That feature currently only works with Facebook Watch video, but the company has plans to expand it to other services. Portal TV also provides direct access to Amazon Prime Video, Showtime, CBS All Access, and other streaming services.

The other two new Portal devices look like photo frames: Portal Mini ($129) has an 8-inch screen, while the redesigned Portal ($179) has a 10-inch screen. Both ship October 15.

Not just a videocam, Portal pans and zooms with the action, Facebook says, so owners can move around the room and be sure they’re always in frame. In addition, the product’s Smart Sound boosts vocals while turning down distracting background noise.

Because Facebook and privacy aren’t exactly synonymous with consumers, the company has built extra privacy protections into the new Portals. That includes a sliding switch for disabling the camera and mic, and an integrated cover that physically blocks the lens. In addition, the Portal AI software runs on the device itself, not on remote Facebook servers.

The new devices are an improvement over the original Portal, which debuted in late 2018, but not everyone agrees they’re necessary.

“There is a big opportunity in the streaming wars right now when it comes to content aggregation, and Facebook seems to be zeroing in on that as they enter the already overcrowded streaming space,” notes Shay David, president and general manager of Kaltura's media and telecom business. “They are also adding a social element by enabling communication through the device. The big question is why a new device is needed, and why a phone or smart TV can't do the exact same thing? From my perspective, it seems Facebook is trying to occupy the space that Alexa or Google Home take, instead of replacing the set-top box.”

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