Setting up Virtual Backgrounds in Zoom

Have you considered using a virtual background when on a Zoom call? Whether you are looking to add some personalization to the call or avoid a cluttered backdrop, this article explores the opportunities and explains how to set one up.

Why use a virtual background

One of the key reasons that you may consider using is a virtual background is to increase the professionalism of your call. If you are working in a messy or dark environment, or have an office set up in your bedroom or kitchen (and want to avoid others seeing your working environment), you can replace your backdrop with an image or video. 

Why you may not want a virtual backgrounds

Although virtual backgrounds are clearly better than a messy work environment, not everyone likes them – there is a danger that they appear ‘fake’ looking. From unnatural lighting and sizing to the flicker of your physical backdrop occasionally coming through, the virtual backgrounds often look less natural than your original setting. While quality issues can be improved using a green-screen, and carefully selecting a natural-looking image, a tidy and curated backdrop may be a better setup.

Even if you are using virtual backgrounds, you should think the image you are using conveys – depending on the call, an image of the beach or a solar system may not be the most professional of backgrounds. 

Configuring a virtual background in Zoom

To configure virtual background first open up Zoom settings. This can be found by clicking the gear icon from within your Zoom app (alternatively, within a call click on the triangle next to audio, and selecting ‘audio settings‘).

Opening Zoom Settings

Once in Zoom Settings, to configure virtual backgrounds:

  1. Select the background and filter tab
  2. Greenscreen: If you are planning on using the virtual backgrounds without a green screen (and your computer meets Zoom’s requirements for this) uncheck ‘I have a green screen’. You may be prompted to download the ‘Smart Virtual Background Package’.
  3. Select your background image: Zoom includes a limited number of background images. Images that include a camera symbol in the bottom left corner are animated.
  4. Upload your own background: If you want to use your own background, click the plus symbol and select to either add an image or a video. 
Using Virtual Backgrounds in Zoom

Technical requirements for using a virtual background in Zoom

The requirements for using virtual backgrounds in Zoom depend on i) whether you are using a green screen, ii) whether you will be using an image or a video in the virtual background, and iii) the resolution of the call. Zoom publishes details on the requirements for enabling the various settings, In general, processing requirements are higher for using a ‘video background’ as opposed to a still image, and are slightly more stringent for removing your background without a green screen. While most modern computers should be capable of handling green screens, the simplest way is to simply visit your settings in Zoom and see which options are available. 

Improve the quality of your virtual background using a green screen

While Zoom may allow you to use virtual backgrounds without a green screen, there are still reasons to consider having one.

Without a green screen, Zoom has to deduce which part of the image is you, and which part is the background to be removed. As well as being a computationally intensive task, Zoom may not always be able to accurately differentiate between the background and foreground. Particularly if you are in a dark setting, with little contrast between you and your background, Zoom may have a hard time cleanly removing your background, potentially resulting in parts of it flashing in/out of your video.

Green screens work by making it very obvious to programs what is part of the background to be removed and what is in the foreground. This not only means that the required processing is less intensive but also helps ensure that your image is a lot crisper. If you are unsatisfied with Zoom’s ability at removing your background without a greenscreen, then you may find investing in a green screen to be a worthwhile investment. 

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