Facebook launches artificial intelligence video-calling device ‘Portal’

Facebook's new Portal device

Facebook is launching the first electronic device to bear its brand, a screen and camera-equipped gadget meant to make video calls easier and more intuitive.

You can use Portal to call your Facebook Messenger friends, even if they don't have a portal, and each call supports up to seven people at once.

Facebook is upping the ante against Amazon and Google with the launch of Portal, a smart speaker and display product that's been designed with video calls in mind. The 10.1-inch display has a resolution of 1280x800 and has 10W dual speakers.

Facebook Portal comes in two display sizes: Portal, which is 10 inches, and Portal Plus, which is a whopping 15 inches.

Both devices include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and are available for pre-order from Facebook's Portal website. The Portal and Portal Plus are available for preorder today, and will ship in November. You will also use your existing Facebook or Facebook Messenger account to sign in.

Portal is Facebook's answer to the Amazon Echo Show.

Facebook has also built technology to ensure that the webcam can track and pan around the room, keeping the caller in-frame without requiring them to sit or stand in one position, or constantly readjust the device.

The smaller Portal is an Amazon Echo Show style device, which is basically a giant display with a speaker.

However, the second version of Portal - called Portal Plus - is a whole different beast.

Facebook has also said that it's incorporating AR effects into the new video calling devices, with "Story Time" created to bring bedtime stories to life with colorful visuals and custom sound effects. However, the Portal devices also feature Alexa integration so one can use Amazon's voice assistant for checking the weather, controlling their smart home devices, and more. "If you buy the Portal, you have to really want to video chat with other people on Facebook, and do so from one room in your home, on something other than the phone or laptop or tablet that you likely already have".

Portal's Smart Camera works in tandem with "Smart Sound", which minimizes background noise and hones in on the person speaking for a clearer video call experience. Facebook has partnered with Spotify Premium, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, as well as Facebook Watch, Food Network and Newsy with mode on the way.

But the Portal, reportedly delayed from an earlier launch by the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, will pay an extra price for Facebook's years of playing fast and loose with our privacy.

Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, "Hey Portal".

Facebook servers are only contacted when you say "Hey Portal". The Portal comes with a manual camera cover that covers the lens, physically blocking it from broadcasting video when you don't want to, and additionally has a button that turns off the mic and camera, physically cutting the circuit, so it can't be compromised by hackers who want to tap into your video feed. This marks Facebook's first physical product aside from the Oculus virtual reality headset which Facebook acquired in 2014. You can delete your Portal's voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

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