Technology

Facebook's newest Portal video calling device wants to live under your TV

Facebook's newest Portal video...
The three new Portals in Facebook's range
The three new Portals in Facebook's range
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The three new Portals in Facebook's range
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The three new Portals in Facebook's range
The Portal TV uses your television as its screen
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The Portal TV uses your television as its screen
When not in use, the Portals double up as digital photo frames
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When not in use, the Portals double up as digital photo frames
Video calling remains the main feature of the Portals
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Video calling remains the main feature of the Portals

Facebook first dipped its toes into video calling hardware last October with the original Portal and Portal+, and now it's back with three more models – including one that doubles up as a media streamer and is built for use underneath TV sets (as if we don't have enough boxes there already).

Portal TV, as the media streaming box is called, supports Amazon Prime Video, Showtime and Starz, with more video apps apparently on the way. There are also apps for Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio available, for streaming your tunes.

In fact, these apps are available on the Portal TV, the newly-updated standard Portal, and the smaller Portal Mini – it's just that on the Portal TV, you're using your television as the screen, rather than a built-in display. The new Portal's integrated screen is 10 inches, while the Portal Mini display is 8 inches.

At the center of all these devices, as with previous Portal hardware, is video calling (via Facebook Messenger). As before, the cameras use face recognition to follow you around the room – so you don't have to sit still while you're talking – plus some audio processing tricks are used to minimize background noise.

For the privacy-conscious, the new Portal devices come with buttons for disabling the camera and microphone, and you also get a physical shutter for blocking the camera's view into your room. You can see if the camera and microphone are off, because the Portal will show a red light next to them.

The Portal TV uses your television as its screen
The Portal TV uses your television as its screen

When you're not video-calling someone, the Portal devices can double up as digital photo frames. You additionally get a Story Time feature, which is a way of reading bedtime stories with your kids over a video link, complete with augmented reality effects.

There's also the option to tune into Facebook Watch videos, and watch them with other people connected to your Portal – like a remote viewing party – and with these new models, WhatsApp calling is supported alongside Facebook Messenger.

Facebook hasn't revealed any sales figures for the original Portal models, but it doesn't appear to have become a huge hit with Facebook users. Nevertheless, the company must feel it needs a hardware presence like this when we're all filling our homes with Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest devices. As with the previous models, Alexa is on board again.

With the new launches, Facebook is also selling Portal outside the US and Canada for the first time, pushing the devices out to Europe, Australia and New Zealand as well. In the US, Portal costs US$179 (shipping October 15), Portal Mini costs $129 (also shipping October 15), and Portal TV retails for $149 (shipping November 5), so they're cheaper than their predecessors too.

Product page: Facebook

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