Facebook Unveils 'Portal' Video Chat Device for the Home

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On Monday, Facebook Inc. unveiled the $200 Portal, the first-ever consumer hardware from the world's largest social network. When you're not using the 10-inch touch screen for calls, it displays images from Facebook, such as a shared album you choose. So, it's introduced Facebook Portal and Portal+, two versions of a video communication device created to make it easier for you connect with friends and family.

As Facebook points out on the official Portal website, "Alexa features and functionality may differ slightly on Portal and Amazon devices".

Facebook has just announced that its long-awaited video chat devices Portal and Portal+ are now available to preorder in the United States, with shipping due to commence in November. This means two vanilla Portal devices will cost you $298.

"Both models are created to help you feel closer to the important people in your life and make video chats feel less like a call, and more like you're actually in the same room", Facebook said in a blog post.

To make a call, users will simply say "Hey Portal, call." followed by the name of the person you want to contact.

Portal represents Facebook's entry into that fray. But the company also says the camera and microphone can be "completely" disabled with a single tap. To prevent unwanted visitors from using your Portal, you can set a passcode from four to 12 digits in length. Calls can be made to and from Messenger-enabled smartphones and tablets. Facebook also says that cameras in the Portal and Portal+ come with a cover that should give an assurance to people that Facebook is not watching their moves. It features a pivoting 15-inch display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080.

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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 first thing consumers are going to wonder is 'how much sensitive data is this collecting about me?'" said John Breyault, vice president of public policy of telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that has received donations from Facebook and other tech companies.

Facebook's release of Portal comes at a time when the social network is under intense scrutiny around the world.

Both Portals use AI technology to make video chatting better. It does less than the Echo Show or Google Smart Displays - there's no YouTube to make it double as a kitchen TV, for one. The company is still dealing with the fallout of Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a British firm harvested Facebook user data to aid the Trump U.S. presidential campaign. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted.

Portal and the larger Portal+ use AI-powered technology to automatically pan and zoom and minimize background noise for video calls. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 74 percent of Facebook members in the USA have in the a year ago taken a break, deleted the app from their phone or adjusted their privacy settings.

In video calls, Facebook is offering integrations with Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and its own video platform to let users watch or listen to content together on a call.

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