What Is Facebook Portal TV and How Does It Work?

Facebook's foray into streaming TV and entertainment

What We Like
  • Easy video calling via Facebook Messenger with friends, family and more.

  • Smart camera that keeps everyone in view during a call.

  • Media streaming like music, videos and movies, and more.

  • Access to Facebook Watch on TV to enjoy content on the big screen.

  • Alexa built-in and support for Skills.

What We Don't Like
  • Privacy implications of not only giving Facebook more data, but also direct access to your living room.

  • Video calling only supports Messenger and WhatsApp.

  • Do we really need another media streaming device.

  • Pricey for what it offers.

Facebook Portal TV is a set-top box, designed to plug directly into a TV. Although it looks different, the experience is remarkably similar to Facebook’s standalone video platform called Portal. Some also refer to it as Facebook TV, because it resembles other set-top and entertainment devices from comparable providers—like Amazon Fire TV or Roku’s devices.

Portal TV is meant to connect to a primary display, such as your living room TV, and will rest discreetly on an entertainment center or shelf below. It includes Alexa built-in, for smart voice commands, as well as the necessary features to participate in video calls: such as a microphone, webcam and speakers.

What Is Portal by Facebook?

Before we get deeper into Facebook Portal TV, let's review Facebook Portal.

Portal is essentially a standalone video display that connects with Facebook and allows for communication with contacts, like friends or family. You can call your Mom or Dad on the weekends, for example, to catch up and chat via a streaming video connection. It makes video calling accessible in every home and eliminates the need to have a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Of course, it can do a lot more than video calls. It can play music, stream videos and movies, display photos like a digital picture frame, and much more. Plus, because it has Alexa built-in, you can install Alexa skills to work with third-party apps and services.

What Is Facebook Portal TV?

facebook portal tv set-top box with remote
Facebook

Facebook Portal TV—or just Portal TV—is Portal without the screen. Instead of using a built-in display, you connect it to a TV, presumably one in your living room.

It looks a lot like an Xbox Kinect and includes an AR-friendly camera, speakers and a microphone. You can control the box using a remote, or via voice commands by calling out to Alexa. 

Like the original Portal, the TV version is primarily meant to connect friends, family and contacts via Facebook through video calls and interactive digital experiences. Also, because it has Alexa, just about anything you can do with an Echo speaker you can do with Portal TV.

It also allows you to stream content directly to your TV like other smart TV devices. Facebook's Portal TV will emphasize Facebook's online content, often shared via the social network and on Facebook Watch—think Facebook's version of YouTube or Netflix.

Portal TV Features and Benefits

  • 12.5MP camera with 120-degree field of view
  • No integrated display, but uses native TV resolution
  • 8-microphone array to offer clear, quality communication
  • No built-in speakers instead uses TV, surround system or soundbar (if there’s one connected to your TV)
  • Video calls through Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp
  • Alexa voice-assistant built-in with support for Alexa skills
  • Dedicated mic and camera disable button and camera cover for privacy
  • Supports 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz WiFi networks

What Can Portal TV Do?

The short answer is that Portal TV can do anything the original Portal can, as well as anything an Alexa-enabled smart speaker can.

You can play music, watch videos and movies, look up recipes, and interact with other apps and services. For example, if you want to see who’s at your front door by syncing up with a smart video doorbell, you can do that.

Alexa skills expand its functionality quite a bit, offering support for services that might not be included otherwise. For example, one skill might allow Alexa to playback a certain podcast. Another might allow her to interact with a specific brand’s smart lighting. Alexa skills introduce games and fun activities, cooking help, allow you to shop via voice commands, listen to audio-books and podcasts, and much more.

But the most important feature of the Portal and Portal TV is the option to video call friends or family. Because of the design and features, Portal promises a dynamic and interactive experience. If you—or your kids—are moving around the room then the camera will keep everyone in the frame using artificial intelligence. The camera can also zoom in and out to accommodate larger, or smaller groups.

While on a video call, you can start a variety of activities like listening to music, playing games, or sharing interactive story experiences, as demoed in the Portal commercials.

While Portal TV does offer a lot of functionality out-of-the-box, it’s primarily meant for heavy Facebook users who want to stay connected to friends and family via the social network’s services.