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AI Drives Smart Video Calling With New Facebook Portal TV

MENLO PARK, Calif.—Facebook is looking to turn the home flat screen television into a video calling center with today’s announcement of Portal TV.

One of three new products in the Portal lineup is Portal TV, a device that sits above or below the home TV to bring smart video calling to the public. Equipped with the AI smarts to pan and zoom as callers move around to make sure they stay in the frame, Portal TV also sports Smart Sound, a feature that enhances the voice of the speaker and minimizes unwanted background sound.

Facebook appears to be sensitive to growing concerns among the public regarding privacy and security. To disable Portal TV’s mic and camera requires a single tap or the slide of a switch. A red light by the camera lens alerts Portal TV owners that the camera and microphone are off. A camera cover that physically blocks the camera lens is built-in for added security. As an added nod to privacy, the device’s AI runs locally, not on Facebook servers, the company said.

If the “Hey Portal” voice activation is enabled, the device will listen for the phrase. When detected a short audio recording and voice interaction transcript are sent to Facebook. There, a trained team may review the sample with the goal of improving the smarts of the device and making voice services more accurate, the company said.

Facebook gives users the chance to view, hear and delete any “Hey Portal” interactions. They also can turn off voice storage, it said.

In addition, Facebook has announced that the Amazon Prime Video app is now available on Portal, allowing for users to stream programming through their Portal device. Apps for Showtime, CBS All Access, Starz, Pluto TV, Red Bull TV and Neverthink are coming soon, the company said.

The other two new Portal products, a redesigned Portal and Portal Mini, have a picture-frame shape—the former with a 10-inch HD screen, and the latter with an 8-inch display. Photos and videos can be displayed in landscape or portrait modes. Brightness and color are adapted to the surroundings, and both have a built-in speaker to listen to music when the devices are not being used for a video call.

The Portal Mini ($129), the redesigned Portal ($179) and Portal TV ($149) are available for pre-order, with a Nov. 5 shipping date. Units will be available in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Facebook is offering a $50 discount on a bundle of any two.

More information is available online.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.