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Facebook reportedly plans 'Portal' video chat device

Later in 2018, maybe we'll chat with $499 voice-controlled smart screens, not just with Facebook Messenger on phones and PCs, Cheddar reports.

AT&T showed this Model I PicturePhone prototype at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. It's now on display at Nokia's Bell Labs, which inherited the famous AT&T R&D center through acquisitions.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

It looks like Facebook wants to get in on the videophone action, too.

The social network colossus will begin selling a $499 device called Portal in the second half of the year that will let Facebook members hold video chats, according to a report from Cheddar on Tuesday. The device will be announced in early May, and Facebook could lower that planned price to spur demand, the report said.

Facebook declined to comment.  

Like today's products, the Facebook Portal would be voice controlled, the report said. So maybe you should get ready to add "Hey Facebook" to your computer-invoking repertoire alongside "OK Google," "Hey Siri" and "Alexa."

It's not immediately clear what advantages Facebook might see with video chat on a dedicated hardware device compared to phones and personal computers, where video chat already is an option via Facebook Messenger on phones and on PCs. But some of Facebook's biggest rivals are already in the market.

The Amazon Echo Show arrived in 2017, and at the CES show Monday in Las Vegas, Google showed off video chat-enabled smart screens made by Lenovo, LG, Sony and Samsung-owned JBL.

Video phones have been a dream among tech companies for decades. The technology never arrived over the conventional phone network, but it's now commonplace with internet services like Skype, Google Hangouts and Apple Facetime. Once networks offer high enough data-transfer rates and low enough communication delays, video chat is just another bunch of data packets whizzing across the net.

Adding dedicated hardware devices to the mix, though, opens up a new way for companies to make money off the idea. Online giants like Google and Facebook have been funded advertising revenue, but selling devices means we can become customers, not just targets for ads.

The Facebook Portal, like other smart screens, won't be limited to video calls, Cheddar said. It'll also be able to play music and stream video. For video use, the Portal will use face recognition to identify who's in a video call, the report said.

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