If we look back at science fiction and futuristic visions from TV shows and Movies in the past – Video calling was a big thing – imagine taking the Delorian from then to now to realise this is actually becoming a “thing”
Facetime calls and even WhatsApp or Skype video calls from mobile to mobile have been around a while, and yes they are used but in no means are they the standard for remote conversation.
We’ve now got Amazon Echo devices with screens and cameras, Google, JBL, Lenovo all making Google Assistant devices with cameras that can make video calls – and today, we meet Portal – the new video calling system from Facebook.
Now the idea of a Video camera in the kitchen might freak people out, but in reality all these devices have a simple switch that closes off and disables any video or audio for those concerned.
This is all about connecting people, connecting families, and frankly, I love it.
There are several devices, a small Portal which goes for $199, the standard larger portal for $279 and a thing called “Portal TV” which will set you back $229.
Portal TV is more like a camera you plug into your TV and turn your big screen TV into a video conferencing device for you, your family and friends.
The other portal devices are more like Google Home – they sit there waiting for you to use them, dedicated to this cause.
You can make video calls to anyone in your Facebook contacts using Messenger, or via WhatsApp – we are yet to test this to understand how the WhatsApp link works given it is linked to a phone number on a single device, but expect it will work like WhatsApp web allowing you to “scan in” your Portal to be enabled for Video calls.
Portal Mini is an 8 inch screen, the larger Portal device is 10 inch. It can be sat in portrait or landscape mode and will display photos when not in use.
The real smarts is the camera here, and I’ve seen this demonstrated – it can zoom in on a person who is further from the camera, and will zoom out and follow them as they walk and move around. Complete freedom to check in with family while you’re doing the dishes, cooking dinner, or cleaning up.
As if to pre-empt the concerns, Facebook have come out and said clearly that “For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers.
If “Hey Portal” is enabled, Portal does listens for the wake word “Hey Portal.” If it’s detected, including during a call, it will send a short audio clip of the voice interaction to Facebook. Your “Hey Portal” voice interactions are stored by default to make Facebook voice services better for everyone. A trained team may review a sample to make our voice services smarter and more accurate. You can view, hear and delete any of your “Hey Portal” voice interactions in your Facebook Activity Log. You can also turn off voice storage in Settings anytime. “
When not in use for Video calls, the Portal can be used to stream radio via iHeart and Amazon Prime video is launching too as well as a bunch of other video apps.
Looks good, but it’s already a crowded, if young market – so it will be interesting to see the take up.