Facebook’s New Portal TV Turns Televisions into Smart Displays While New Portal Devices Begin Shipping to UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand
Facebook has launched the new Portal smart displays it promised back in June. The new lineup includes an updated version of the Portal, a smaller Portal Mini, and a set-top device that plugs into televisions called Portal TV.
Television as the Portal to Facebook
The Portal TV marks a much bigger play by Facebook than the other smart displays. The $149 device includes a camera and microphone connected by an HDMI cord to a television. The central purpose of the device is to transform a television into a larger Portal device. During video chats, the camera on the device zooms and pans around the room automatically to follow whoever is speaking, while the microphones adjust to make voices more discernible and filter out background noise similar to the company’s smart displays. Along with the standard Facebook Messenger system, Portal TV also introduces video calls initiative through WhatsApp with end-to-end encryption.
The Portal TV is built around encouraging people to use it even when they are watching something on the screen. If two Portal TVs are on a video call together, both ends of the conversation can chat through picture-in-picture while simultaneously viewing something on Facebook Watch.
Like the Portal smart displays, Portal TV comes with voice control. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is built-in and all of its skills are available, along with the “Hey Portal” command to make calls and navigate some of the device’s features. The smart speaker is active even when the television is tuned to a different device or turned off, another way Facebook encourages people to make Portals their default smart speaker and display at home. The Portal TV pre-orders will start shipping Nov. 5
New Portals Adopt Picture Frame Look and Function
There are other options for those who don’t want to turn their television into a Facebook device but are interested in getting a dedicated Portal smart display. The new version of the 10-inch Portal and the 8-inch Portal Mini will both begin shipping on Oct. 15 for $179 and $129 respectively. The window frame-size 15.6-inch Portal+ is still available as well. The cost for the larger device has dropped from $349 to $279, and there’s a $50 discount for those who buy two Portal devices at the same time.
Portal Starts a Global Rollout
First-generation Portal smart displays were only available in the U.S. and Canada, but the new rollout adds the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand to the list. Pre-orders are available now in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Global expansion is critical for Facebook right now as it struggles with overall user declines in the U.S. Facebook lost 15 million U.S. subscribers since 2017 according to data gathered by Edison Research. Most reports suggest Facebook’s European user base is flat. Portal is another way for Facebook to show value to consumers on a global scale.
Limited Smart TV, Extra Security
One big change in how Facebook is marketing the new Portal devices is how it is highlighting security and privacy. Facebook has been facing a lot of scrutiny and criticism for sharing conversations between users on Messenger with contractors. Even during a summer where every major smart device maker dealt with backlash over using contractors to listen to voice recordings, Facebook’s actions stood out.
Privacy is highlighted in the new Portal devices, including physical camera covers built into the device, and microphone indicator lights for when they are off. The privacy settings are laid out during setup, and people can choose to opt-out of the human review of conversations with the Portal voice assistants.
The camera and microphone offer extra insurance against accidental recordings ending up in the hands of contractors by running locally on the device instead of sending the audio recordings automatically to the cloud. Any local recordings can be reviewed or deleted by users. Whether that will be enough to assuage concerns of prospective customers is unclear, but Facebook’s focus on these features suggests they understand privacy concerns could be a drag on adoption.
The customers Facebook is aiming for are not the same as those looking to buy a new smart television. Portal TV is far too limited in that regard. While there are apps for streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Starz, it can’t compete with Roku or Amazon Fire as a streaming platform. With that said, there have been reports that Facebook has approached Netflix, Disney, and other big names in streaming about adding their content to its list.
The target customer base for Portal is hard to define, and whether all of the Portal types can make a dent in Amazon and Google’s market share is debatable. Facebook’s central service is connecting people. From that perspective, creating another means for video chat is aligned with the company’s primary organizing principle, The question will be whether people want to connect with their friends and family through Facebook over their television.