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Zoom: The two features you need to know about for video conferences

Andrew Griffin
People pass walk by the Nasdaq building as the screen shows the logo of the video-conferencing software company Zoom after the opening bell ceremony on April 18, 2019 in New York City: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Zoom conferences have very swiftly become a key feature of modern working life for huge numbers of people around the world.

The video chat app has become probably the most discussed of the variety of apps that allow people to virtually meet even when they are forced to work from home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

And as more and more people use the app, they are finding two of its most notable features: the ability to apply a filter to your face, and layer a background over your house.

There is probably no need to use either of the features, and it may well be better not to worry about how you or house look to others during the coronavirus lockdown. But given the prevalence of people using them in virtual workplaces across the world, it is helpful at least to know what they do and how to turn them on.

‘Touch up’ your appearance

There are, of course, plenty of good questions about whether people should feel the need to care about their appearance on video conference calls, and feeling the requirement to do so is almost certainly unhealthy.

But for many people the feature can be a nice way to soothe any anxieties about having to look at your own face throughout long conversations, especially given that it is likely to be lit up by the unsympathetic glow of your computer screen.

The feature is subtle and Zoom describes it as allowing people to have a “more polished appearance”.

“The ​​Touch Up My Appearance option retouches your video display with a soft focus,” the description on Zoom’s website reads. ”This can help smooth out the skin tone on your face, to present a more polished looking appearance when you display your video to others.”

The feature does have system requirements, though they are not as onerous as Zoom’s virtual background feature. All you need is version 4.0 of the Zoom app or later, on Windows, Mac or iOS.

Add a background

Zoom also includes the option to fix the appearance of everything behind you, too. This can not only help to keep focus on what you are saying rather than your house or other backdrop, but also makes it easy to hide any mess, people or pets that happen to be filling up the space behind.

This feature is rather more complicated, both for you to turn on and for your computer to handle. That means that the requirements to turn it on are higher, and that it might not work quite so reliably when it is switched on.

Most people will be able to use the most simple version of the background feature, which requires people to sit in front of a physical green screen and have it switched out for a static image. The highest spec computers will be able to use it without a physical green screen, and be able to swap in a moving, looping video rather than just one image.

To switch the feature on, click the little upwards arrow next to the “Stop Video” button, and press the virtual background button, which might require you to download the “smart virtual background package” to be installed and give you the feature. Once that is all done, you should be able to press the button any time and add a photo or video to become your background, and they can be switched out any time you please.

Users will be told whether they have the right version of Zoom, the correct operating system and powerful enough hardware to use the feature when they try and turn it on.

Some people have used this feature in especially inventive ways, showing that it is possible to actually pretend you are paying attention and leave a meeting, by editing in a background of yourself.

To ensure the virtual background works in the best way, Zoom recommends that people sit in front of a solid colour background, use the best quality camera they have, avoid wearing clothing the same colour as the virtual background and keep their lighting as uniform as possible.

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