Closing the Browser Gap in September 2021
Message center notification MC277112 published on August 10 promised that Teams browser clients would support background effects starting in early September. This is Microsoft 365 roadmap item 85738. I normally use the Teams desktop clients for calls but have used the browser client with background effects successfully for several calls recently.
First, some definitions. Background effects cover both video blurring and the use of a selected background image to disguise a user’s background (often a horribly cluttered office) by isolating the image of the person and imposing it on the background image. Teams then makes the combined image available to other meeting participants. The timeline for developments in this area include the following important steps:
- Introduction of background blur for Teams meetings: September 2018.
- Custom background image support for Teams desktop (Windows and Mac): April 2020.
- Administrative support for controlling background effects (VideoFiltersMode setting in Teams meeting policy): May 2020.
- Custom background image support for Teams iOS and Android clients: April 2021.
From the above, we can see that the Teams desktop and mobile clients support background effects. The gaps were in the Teams Linux client and browser clients. MC277112 fills the latter gap.
Sourcing Background Images
Background images come from a variety of sources:
- Microsoft-curated set (including background blur). These images are on a CDN and downloaded from there when selected by users.
- Organization-curated set (if you have Teams advanced communications licenses). For example, you might have background featuring a corporate logo or some recognizable location, such as corporate HQ.
- Custom images uploaded by users (if allowed by the Teams meeting policy). The images can come from Microsoft’s gallery of images chosen for Teams, galleries maintained by other companies, or even the images used for the Bing home page.
The big gotcha with browser support of background images is that you can only choose one of the Microsoft-curated images. As you can see in Figure 1, the gallery of images contains no evidence of either organization or custom images.
The only issue I noted using the browser client is that it is less precise at “feathering” the edges of the personal with the background image. The desktop client produces cleaner edges and responds to movement of a person faster, maybe because the desktop client has better access to system resources. Or it could just be me looking for something to complain about.
I used the Edge browser (version 93.0.931.38) for testing. Microsoft doesn’t specify if any restrictions exist for other browsers. Given that the feature works with Edge, I expect no problems with Chrome, Brave, or any other Chromium-based browser.
Limited Roll-Out First
Confining browser support to the set of Microsoft-curated images isn’t surprising. Windows PCs depend on being able to access custom images stored %AppData%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads. Custom organization images are kept in an online location managed by the Teams admin center. Although it shouldn’t be too difficult to access these locations, it makes sense to roll-out background effects to browser clients in a more restricted mode. After resolving any initial teething problems, Microsoft can then update the client support to handle organization and personal custom images.
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