September 17, 2019
For the holidays, Facebook plans to unveil a Portal TV streaming device that will feature a camera and far-field microphones and offer video chat with TV viewing and augmented reality. Rather than competing directly with Fire TV or Roku, the device focuses more on video chatting. It is also likely to run Android, as does most Facebook hardware including Oculus Go and Oculus Quest VR headsets. By being based on the Android operating system, the Portal device will synch seamlessly with Android-based TV apps.
Variety reports that, according to other sources, “Facebook had approached Netflix, Disney and other media companies about adding their streaming services to its new TV hardware.” Although results of the talks are unknown, sources said that Facebook’s new TV devices will “have a bigger focus on content consumption than existing Portal devices.” (Pictured below is the Portal announced last fall.)
Variety surmises that the device may access content similarly to Oculus Quest and Go headsets, which rely on “an app called Oculus TV that works as a hub to consolidate third-party content, including linear-like TV channels from providers like Pluto, Newsy and Red Bull TV.”
Sources believe the device may also include an integrated speaker. But one audio expert noted he’s “not a fan of reusing the TV speakers … [because] most TVs come with cheap built-in speakers that can distort audio, which complicates the type of echo cancellation necessary for the type of full-duplex (two-way) audio for video chatting.”
Relying on TV speakers also means that they would need to provide multiple settings “to optimize audio for movie watching, video gaming and other scenarios — none of which may be good for video chats.” Adding a speaker, however, “could make Facebook’s TV device more bulky, while also adding to the hardware costs for the company.”
The Portal streaming device would be the first such device of its kind to bring face filters, interactive stories and other kinds of AR effects to the TV screen, and “the company is expected to emphasize these features even more across its entire range of Portal products in the future.” Facebook may also update the two Portal models debuted last year. One reason for a refresh would be to replace a temporary privacy “bandage” with “an integrated hardware switch to physically disconnect the device’s camera.”
Facebook has tried to prevent any leaks about the Portal hardware; last year, it created a dedicated shell company, MCBP Technologies, “to submit all of the necessary regulatory filings to the FCC without having tech bloggers notice it.”