Use Background Images and Blur in Teams Meetings

Background Blur and Custom Images

Updated June 5, 2020 with details of how to upload custom images via the Teams desktop client and June 10 with news of AVX support.

Microsoft introduced background blur for Teams meetings in September 2018. If your workstation hardware supports blurring, Teams can isolate your image from the background and apply a mask (like a green screen) to the background to remove the distraction of a cluttered office. Announced in Office 365 notification MC208577 on April 3, (Microsoft 365 roadmap item 62890), Teams meeting participants can use a custom background effect (an image) instead of a simple background blur. Microsoft started the general roll-out of custom backgrounds on April 9, 2020.

Background effects are available on Windows and Mac workstations but isn’t available for the Teams browser or mobile clients. The Teams desktop client for Linux supports background blur but doesn’t support background images.

Users can choose from a set of curated images provided by Microsoft or upload a custom image of their own (see below). Today, no administrative control is available for background blur and background effects, but this will change when Microsoft makes the VideoFiltersMode setting active in Teams meeting policies. The setting allows tenants user-level control over the ability to use background blur, blur and background effects, or upload custom images. You can also apply policies to stop users having any access to video effects (and take some fun out of their working lives).

Hardware and Client Requirements

Three conditions must be met before you can use custom backgrounds:

  • Your workstation supports background blur. Blurring and background effects depend on the hardware supporting the necessary AVX extensions. AVX2 used to be the requirement, but Teams changed to support AVX (see user voice announcement of June 9, 2020) for background effects (blur and images). Background effects aren’t available in the Teams browser client.
  • Your Teams client supports the feature. Use the Check for Updates function in Teams Settings to grab the latest version. Version or above should work.
  • The update has been deployed to your tenant.

In addition, background blur and effects are unsupported when Teams runs in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environment no matter if the underlying platform supports the necessary graphic extensions.

The ability for users to upload their own custom images will follow in May (see section below to learn how to do this now ).

Choosing a Background Image

Background effects are supported in all types of Teams meetings, including personal video chats, Meet now in a channel, or a call that you set up with another user for testing purposes. You can set background effects through the meeting pre-join screen (Windows client) or after the meeting starts. During a meeting, click the […] in the menu bar and then select Apply background effects (tip: use the CTRL-Shift-P combination to reveal background effects on a Windows PC). You can then select from a set of images:

  • None (blank).
  • Blur (same effect as background blurring)
  • One of the set of curated images chosen by Microsoft.
  • Custom images uploaded by you (see below).

A user’s ability to apply background effects can be controlled by a setting in the Teams meeting policy assigned to their account. For example, they might be limited to use background blurring only. See this post for more details.

When you select one of the standard images, Teams downloads a copy from a content delivery network to create a local copy on the workstation. If you can’t reach that network (perhaps because VPN settings prevent access), you won’t be able to see or download the standard background images. To test if this is true, try to access one of the standard images, like the contemporary office scene.

For scheduled calls, you can also select a background image before joining the call. After you select a background effect (blurring or an image), Teams remembers your choice and applies it to every meeting you use with video enabled until you choose another effect.

Uploading Custom Images

Custom images span an immense spectrum of possibilities. I like the image shown in Figure 1 because it seems like I am sitting in front of a large window onto a beach with a storm rolling in (typical scenery from the West of Ireland).

Teams displays a Background Image in a Meeting
Figure 1: Teams displays a Background Image in a Meeting

The Teams client originally lacked the the ability for users to upload a custom background image of their choice to use in meetings.. The first implementation of support for custom images involved a manual upload to a specific folder on the client PC (described below). This is still useful because you can exploit the technique to upload many custom images at one time or do the job with a PowerShell script or other programming language. In June 2020, the Teams client was updated to support the option to update a custom background.

To upload a custom image via the Teams desktop client, access the Apply background effects option in a meeting and click Add New (Figure 2). Browse to the folder holding the image file and select it. Teams then copies the file to %AppData%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads. The original file name is retained.

Uploading a custom background  image to Teams
Figure 2: Uploading a custom image to Teams

Once copied to the Teams folder, you can select an use the image in a meeting. If you make a mistake and copy the wrong file, you can remove it by hovering over the image to expose a … menu. Select Remove (Figure 3) and Teams will delete the image from the Uploads folder. If you decide to delete a file from the Uploads folder, make sure that you delete its thumbnail as well to avoid the potential of displaying a thumbnail in the gallery and the actual background can’t be loaded. You can’t remove one of the standard images provided by Microsoft.

Removing a background image from Teams
Figure 3: Removing a background image from Teams

I have uploaded large high-fidelity JPEG photos to the Uploads folder and used them as a background. Usually, I size images at 1920 x 1080 pixels (the same size used for Microsoft’s standard backgrounds) with a graphic editor (Paint can do this). You can use full-fidelity images, but it’s probably a good idea to downscale them so that images are around 1 MB. Note that the display of any graphic image can be adjusted to match the dimensions of a screen. If something in an image is really important to you, make sure that it’s positioned in the center.

Note: when you test a background image before using it in your video feed, you’ll notice that the image is reversed. This is normal and the image will be seen the right way round when viewed by others.

No Roaming Images

If you use Teams on several devices, you’ll also find that images don’t roam across devices. You must upload and maintain images on each device.

Video Bleeding

Background blur and effects work by isolating the person from the video feed and inserting blurring or an image around the person. Sophisticated AI techniques are used to make sure that a clean merge happens between the background and the person, but sometimes “bleeding” happens. Usually this occurs where the AI can’t distinguish the precise dimensions of the person’s image and can be caused by spectacles, wearing a headset, or even fluffed hair. You won’t be able to eliminate bleeding as some will occur at the edges where the background and person meet, but you can minimize it.

  • Use a plain background to make it easier for the AI to differentiate between background and person.
  • Wear clothes with a contrasting color (no stripes) to the background.
  • Use good lighting to increase contrast and sharpen the image.

Video (Moving) Backgrounds

Apps like Snap camera can generate images for Teams backgrounds using filters. This are static images and some would like dynamic images. I’ve seen this done using tools like XSplit Virtual Cam where people tape a video lasting a couple of seconds and play it on a constant loop as their background. Virtual Cam can generate other effects too, so clearly there’s some pretty interesting techniques to explore here in an attempt to turn fellow workers wild with envy.

The free Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) can also be used to create moving background effects for Teams. Here’s a post explaining how to use OBS for this purpose.

Manual Upload of Custom Backgrounds

Here’s how to upload custom images manually. First, make sure that the target folder to hold the custom images exists. The easiest way to do this is to sign into Teams and start a meeting (in a channel or personal chat). Now use the Apply Background Effects option from the meeting menu and select one of the standard images. This action creates the folders used to store images on your workstation. Exit the meeting.

On a PC, you can now select some suitable images and copy them to the %AppData%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads folder (Figure 4) and will then be able to select those images for a meeting background.

Where to upload background Teams images to on a PC
Figure 4: Where to upload background images to on a PC

On Macs, the images should be copied to:
/users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads

You may need to hold down the OPTION key before you choose GO from the Finder Menu to get the Library to appear.

Finding Sources for Background Images

Given the popularity of background images across all video conferencing platforms, it’s unsurprising that companies publish images for people to use. For example, Star Wars fans looking for themed background images can find them here. Quite a nice collection is available, even if I look unsure about the runs of the Death Star in Figure 5.

In the ruins of the Death Star
Figure 5: In the ruins of the Death Star

The Wallpaper Hub site is a rich source of images that can be used as background images. These images are created for use as PC desktop wallpaper but many of them make excellent background images for use with Teams or other conferencing software.

Another example is the IKEA collection, complete with IKEA-assembly style instructions (Figure 6). IKEA has a large Teams deployment, so it’s totally understandable why issue their own take on background images.

How to assemble Teams backgrounds by IKEA
Figure 6: How to assemble Teams backgrounds by IKEA

The Fox TV Twitter feed includes links to images from several popular shows such as the couch from the Simpsons, Pixabay has many free to use Harry Potter themed images, and Pixar has made images available from films like Toy Story and Up. In general, any images published for use as a background with Zoom will work nicely with Teams.

Finally, MVP Michel de Rooij has posted a set of background images that you might find some inspiration from.

Using Bing Images

Bing publishes a daily photo which it uses as the daily background for its home screen. The daily photo varies from market to market and are usually quite attractive. You can copy those images and use them for Teams backgrounds with some PowerShell code. In this case, the code downloads the images for the Irish market (en-IE). Change this to the market appropriate to your needs (for example, (fr-FR for France, en-UK for the UK, en-US for the U.S., and so on).

The script can be downloaded from GitHub.

The Office 365 for IT Pros eBook includes lots of information about how Office 365 features work. It’s an essential tool for anyone managing an Office 365 tenant.

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