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Teams Green Screen Effect Uses Fewer System Resources for Crisper Images
Microsoft Teams has steadily added to the set of background effects available in Teams meetings since the introduction of the original blur filter in 2018. Video filters and effects is an area where Microsoft dedicates engineering effort to remain competitive with Zoom and other offerings. In my own case, although the brightness filter lifts my weary face, mostly, I use standard background images (sometimes grabbed from the Bing daily image). The next big step change comes in May 2023 when Microsoft is scheduled to release mesh avatars for Teams meetings. Between avatars and regular video feeds (enhanced with images and filters or not), Teams users have many ways to customize and enhance their virtual presence
All of which means that some might wonder why Microsoft is bringing a green screen effect to Teams meetings. Announced in MC529415 (March 17, 2023) and Microsoft 365 roadmap item 117941, Microsoft says that the green screen filter will provide “an enhanced virtual background effect.” Preview will begin in late March with deployment to commercial and GCC tenants slated for the latter part of April.
The green screen effect works on Windows and macOS clients with Intel CPUs and doesn’t support the Mac M1 and M2 chips. This is because the green screen effect uses Advanced Vector Extension (AVX) extensions like the background blur effect does. The fact that when using the green screen, Teams automatically disables background blue (and together mode) supports this assertion. The green screen works with background images and meeting presenter modes like Reporter and Side-by-Side.
About Green Screens
Adobe has a useful explanation about the purpose of a green screen. The screen doesn’t have to be green, but green doesn’t “match any natural skin tone or hair colour, so it’s easy to remove without grabbing parts of the person in the foreground. But if you’re trying to match a lower-light background or you need to have a green prop in your project, a blue screen works best.”
Microsoft says that using the green screen in Teams meetings “improves the sharpness and definition of the virtual background effect around your face, head, ears, and hair. It also allows you to show a prop or other object in your hand to be more visible to other participants in a call.”
Setting a Backdrop Color
The requirement to use the green screen effect is that the meeting participant has a solid color screen or a “clean” background wall behind them. Clean means that it’s a one-color wall without too many imperfections or objects on the wall.
To apply the green screen effect, the user enables the effect in the Devices section of Teams settings. I have a plain wall behind my desk, so I opted to try it there (Figure 1). Notice how Teams asks the user to select the “backdrop” color of the screen by clicking the dropper on a representative part of the wall.
Two problems are immediately apparent. First, there’s shadow on the left-hand side of the wall behind me. Second, two objects are hanging on the wall. Removing the objects and making sure that the selected wall is free from shade and other influences that cause its color to be non-uniform is the best way to get good results from the green screen.
Proper backdrops for use with green screens are not expensive (here’s an example sold by Amazon). Using a backdrop instead of a wall creates much better video output and avoids the imperfections I reveal below. The lesson is clear: if you want to look good when using the Teams green screen, invest in a proper backdrop.
Using the Green Screen
Using the green screen in a meeting is like choosing any of the other video effects. Select more from the toolbar, then Video effects, and then toggle the Green screen button. Figure 2 shows how the green screen works with the background image and backdrop I selected. You can see that the resulting video feed is imperfect because the wall is not uniform (the effect of the shade on the wall is very apparent). You can also see that the two objects hanging on the wall show through because they don’t match the color chosen for the backdrop. I guess that the top of my hair might match the chosen color!
These remarks are not to denigrate how the Teams green screen works. Instead, they undermine the necessity of choosing a uniform wall to be the backdrop. For comparison, Figure 3 shows the effect of using a regular background image where the video feed removes everything but the presenter’s image.
Fewer System Resources Consumed
According to Microsoft 365 roadmap item 117941, “green screen provides the best virtual background effect, consuming fewer system resources, allowing your Teams to run smoother.” The assertion that the green screen effect is less demanding on the system might seem surprising, but it makes sense when you think about it. When you apply a background image, the processor must scan everything captured by the camera to isolate the person’s image and superimpose it on top of the background image. Using a green screen means that the processor knows to drop everything of a certain color and display what’s left on top of the background image, so the processing is simpler. At least, it seems that way to me.
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