Published: Tue, October 09, 2018
Electronics | By Shannon Stone

Facebook launches AI video-calling device 'Portal'

Facebook launches AI video-calling device 'Portal'

Facebook's new Portal communications device. Fast-forward to this Monday, and after the reported delay, Facebook has quietly unveiled the Portal video-chat and smart speaker platform.

As far as privacy is concerned, Facebook wants to assure people that it has taken relevant steps for the Portal and Portal+.

The company has also been heavily linked with making its own smart speaker to rival the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, but no such device has yet appeared.

When you're not using the Portal, a feature called Superframe will let you display your favorite photos and videos or important notifications such as birthday reminders. The Portal includes a 10-inch screen with a 1280 x 800 display, while the Portal+ comes with a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pivoting display. Meanwhile, the larger Portal+ boasts a 15.6-inch Full HD display, and it's coupled with 20W speakers and a four-inch bass woofer.

Portal and Portal+ are available now for pre-order in the USA - from Facebook at portal.facebook.com, as well as Amazon and Best Buy - and will begin shipping in November. Cameras are Silicon Valley's next frontier, and it's trying to persuade us to install them as video-chat devices and security systems.

But Facebook has moved to quickly allay security fears, saying that by keeping the processes on the actual device rather than in the cloud, the risk of hacking is lower than with a smartphone or computer.

While the contents of Portal video calls are encrypted, Facebook does collect call logs from the device.

The display is available in two sizes; the standard Portal looks a lot like the Echo Show, whereas the Portal Plus is much larger. Its primary objective is to make video calls - the thing any smartphone, tablet, or computer can do - but Amazon Alexa is built-in so it can be your assistant, too.

Portal and Portal+ have two AI-based features: Smart Camera and Smart Sound. The Portal's smart camera detects a users face and frames them within the shot throughout the video call. The company says you can completely disable the camera and microphone whenever you want, and it doesn't listen to any of your video calls, either. And how many people are going to make jokes about Facebook opening a portal to... somewhere?

Facebook servers are only contacted when you say "Hey Portal". If you splash out on two Portals, you can save $100, with a pair costing just $298. The only time Facebook will send anything through its servers is after you initiate a "Hey Portal" command. They are the first Facebook-branded hardware products.

Portal supports Amazon's Alexa voice assistant and will be sold through Amazon's website and in some of its physical stores, representing Facebook's first major partnership with Amazon. You can also receive $100 United States dollars off any two devices - this means a bundle of two Portal devices will be priced at $298 USD, so you can share the experience right out of the box.

Users will have access to services such as Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy at launch, with more services being added later.

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