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Home / Tips and Tricks / Facebook pioneers Augmented Reality for the TV with latest portal hardware «Next Reality

Facebook pioneers Augmented Reality for the TV with latest portal hardware «Next Reality

When Facebook launched its first hardware products, the Portal and Portal + smart displays, last year, the company praised its video call features against Amazon and its Echo Show.

But Facebook also had an interesting function that usually flew under the radar. The Portal devices were also capable of augmented reality, with Spark AR, the platform responsible for mobile augmented reality experiences on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, delivering the virtual effects.

About a year later, a former Google engineer led the Portal team, Facebook expanded the Portal family.

In addition to last year's Portal + (now $ 279), Facebook now offers an updated portal ($ 179), which is now similar to a digital photo frame instead of a Google / Nest Home Hub, the equally designed but smaller Portal Mini ($ 129) and a completely new form factor, the Portal TV ($ 149).

Image via Facebook

The devices can be purchased via the portal website, Amazon and Best Buy in the US and Canada. Customers who choose to buy two devices receive a $ 50 discount on their purchase. Facebook has also expanded its sales area for the Portal collection of devices, allowing customers in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand to purchase the hardware.

For our purposes, we focus here on Portal TV, because it reaches a fairly unique milestone: it brings augmented reality to your television. And that is the unit that we have asked Facebook to use for a practical exploration.

Image by Tommy Palladino / Next Reality

Hardware specifications

With dimensions of 7.48 inches by 1.18 inches at 2.24 inches and weighing 0.68 pounds, the Portal TV device is available in any color, as long as it is black.

The central hardware feature of Portal TV is the camera, a 12.5 MP sensor with a 120 degree field of view. The device also includes a full-range speaker for audio output and a far field array of eight omnidirectional microphones for voice input. As you would imagine, it has an HDMI port to connect to a TV for video output (HDMI cable not included).

Image via Facebook [19659008] In terms of accessories, the Portal TV comes with a compact remote control with a directional navigation path and a handful of input keys.

In the standard configuration of the Portal TV, it stands at a short stand for users who prefer to sit under their television. For those who want to mount the device on top of their television, the pedestal folds out to anchor the Portal TV on the back of the television, and a shorter bracket folds out from under the device to attach to the front of the top ring of the television confirm

Finally, for peace of mind in terms of privacy, Portal TV has a shutter for hiding the camera and a button to turn the camera off and mute the microphone, along with a red LED to confirm that the communication is dark. (There are also some privacy functions on the software side that we will discuss later.)

Image by Tommy Palladino / Next Reality [19659022] Software functions

Before we jump into the AR section, Portal TV offers a whole range of features that appeal to the average consumer.

First and foremost there is video calling, where the augmented reality experiences play a role. One of the unique features of Portal & # 39; s camera, using AI, are automatic panning and zooming as callers move through their space to keep them in view.

Image via Facebook

Portal TV supports video calls via Messenger and WhatsApp, allowing Portal users to contact friends and family, even as they do not have their own Portal device. English-speaking users in the US and Canada can use the "Hey Portal" key phrase for hands-free video calls.

The Portal TV also acts as a multimedia device, with a limited selection of media apps such as Facebook Watch, which offers a feature called Watch Together, enabling video calls that allow users to collaborate remotely while watching a video . Other apps include Amazon Prime Video, Showtime, CBS All Access, Starz, Pluto TV, Red Bull TV and Neverthink for video and Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and iHeartRadio Family for audio to take advantage of that full-range speaker. Although the selection is relatively small, Facebook says that more apps are on the way.

Image via Facebook

In addition, the Portal TV integrates Amazon Alexa for access to all the assistant's smart skills and packs an app called Superframe for displaying photos, birthday reminders and online friends.

But this is Next Reality, and we are here to talk about one thing: augmented reality.

Spark AR on Portal

Portal has four augmented reality categories that users can choose from, one that is known to Facebook Messenger users, two that are unique to Portal and another that is still in the oven. [19659002] First, the Portal TV offers the same AR camera effects that are available on the mobile Messenger app. These AR effects work on calls between Portal users and in calls between Portal and mobile Messenger users.

Image by Tommy Palladino / Next Reality [19659008] Second, there is Storytime, which works for Portal users who are other Portal users or Messenger users call on mobile or desktop. As the name suggests, the feature helps users tell children's stories.

Storytime works just like a traditional book, with virtual frames visible to the public and captions visible to the reader. Readers continue each "page" with the remote control. As the story progresses, Portal adds virtual masks to the reader to further immerse the reader as a character in the story from the audience's perspective.

At the launch last year, the Storytime library of Portal consisted of only six stories According to a Facebook spokesperson, the library will contain 20 stories by the end of the year.

The third AR function, only available on Portal to Portal calls, is called Shared Effects, but would actually be Portal Games These four AR experiences are designed to take advantage of the hands-free nature of the Portal experience, and I had the opportunity to play these games in a briefing with Facebook representatives.

Privacy of portal

So there is an elephant in the room when it comes to Facebook, and the name is privacy. The problems of the company in the past few years are well documented and cast a shadow over this product.

But Facebook claims that the device was designed with privacy in mind. This is what the company has to say about privacy on Portal:

Portal has clear and simple settings for privacy and security. You can turn off the camera and microphone with a single tap or slide switch. A red light next to the lens indicates that the camera and microphone are turned off and there is an integrated camera cover if you want to physically block the camera lens.

For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers.

If you have enabled "Hey Portal", Portal listens for the "Hey Portal" expression. If it is detected, Portal sends a short audio recording and transcription of the "Hey Portal" speech interaction to Facebook. A trained team can judge an example to make our voice services smarter and more accurate for everyone. You can view, hear and delete all your "Hey Portal" interactions in your Facebook activity log. You can also disable speech storage at any time in Settings, which means that your speech interactions will not be saved or evaluated. For more information about Portal's privacy features, go to portal.facebook.com/privacy. cialis19659064 – Facebook

In addition, a Facebook spokesperson confirms that interactions with Alexa are only sent to Amazon's servers.

How does this information affect consumers' view of the device? Some skepticism is justified. In between my sessions with the device, a bug in the iOS version of the Facebook app discovered that the app had access to the camera of the iPhone or iPad. With privacy considerations enveloping the company, this is a difficult accident just to overlook.

Image via Facebook

Again, the average consumer seems to be phased by Facebook & # 39; s track record. The social network continues to expand its daily active user base, instead of seeing it erode.


During a briefing, Facebook product manager Kelly Zhou emphasized that the overarching theme of the AR functions and the Portal platform as a whole, builds connection.

This is clear in the selection of AR experiences. There is no record button for sending photos in direct messages or sharing in stories. These are intended as real-time experiences in live conversations. The Portal TV and its AR functions succeed as a communication tool.

But privacy fears aside, the Portal TV seems like a niche device for ancillary public, such as grandparents and their grandchildren. To illustrate my point, I shared in a conversation with a millennial friend that I was testing a Portal TV. When asked what it was, I explained that it is a connected camera that is attached to a TV for making video calls.

"You mean I can already use my phone?" was the answer.

Images by Tommy Palladino / Next Reality

This is a small example, for sure. But a 2016 report revealed that 52% of smartphone users used between 18 and 34 smartphones for video calling. And that was three years ago.

Yet Portal TV is groundbreaking as a fun AR communication device for televisions. And it may just be the gateway to AR for our oldest and youngest generations, carefree enough to throw caution against the wind to connect.

Don't miss it: NR30: 30 people from Next Reality to keep an eye on Augmented Reality for 2019

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Cover image via Facebook

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