Facebook Enters Living Room With Video Chat-Focused TV Box
An employee demonstrates functions of the Portal TV device attached to a flat screen TV during a Facebook Inc. product launch in San Francisco, California, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg)

Facebook Enters Living Room With Video Chat-Focused TV Box

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. on Wednesday upgraded its Portal video chat devices, with a new model for TVs and lower prices. It also said users can opt out of the company accessing voice recordings collected by the hardware.

With the new products, called Portal TV, Portal, and Portal Mini, Facebook is trying to break into the crowded smart speaker and connected living room markets.

Facebook Enters Living Room With Video Chat-Focused TV Box

The Portal TV, which goes on sale for $149 in October, can be connected to a TV set with standard HDMI cable and has a camera and several microphones to enable video calling via Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp services.

The device supports Spotify, along with Amazon’s Prime Video service, Ring cameras and Alexa voice assistant. But it lacks content from Netflix Inc. and some other popular video-streaming services. That may make it difficult to compete without the range of video and apps offered by rival streaming devices from Roku Inc., Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth emphasized in a demonstration that the device’s primary purpose is video calling. That’s the company’s unique sales proposition and people will likely use additional devices for content that they can’t get via the Portal TV, he said.

Facebook Enters Living Room With Video Chat-Focused TV Box

Facebook’s new Portal smart display devices, coming later in October, will sell for $129 and $179, down from the previous $199 starting price. The devices still come in two sizes, 8-inch and 10-inch variations. The new versions have improved speakers and a physical shutter that can either disable both the camera and microphone or just the camera.

Facebook said it will transcribe some audio clips collected by the Portal devices, but users will be able to opt out.

Facebook first launched its video-calling hardware in 2018, following a series of privacy scandals. The company doesn’t report Portal sales, but it slashed the price in half earlier this year. Bosworth said sales and consumer reception of the device were “warmer” than expected, but he declined to provide specific figures.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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