Zoom’s Immersive View feature designed to evoke both spatial and social presence

[Because Zoom dominates the global market in remote meeting platforms (see a recent survey by EmailToolTester), it’s big news that the company has rolled out a new feature designed to make meetings feel more like they’re taking place in a familiar space than a grid of boxes. Engadget’s coverage starts this way:

“When a feature works, chances are others will co-opt it. Last year, Microsoft followed in Zoom’s footsteps by adding virtual backgrounds to its Teams app. As a testament to the feature’s popularity, Google did the same by bringing the option to Education users on Google Meet. With competition mounting, Zoom has introduced Snapchat-style filters and a virtual receptionist in order to keep evolving. But now it’s borrowing from its rivals with the launch of ‘Immersive View,’ a new type of virtual background that assembles video participants together in one scene. Zoom says the feature can evoke the feeling of being in a classroom or boardroom, with everyone arranged in front of the same backdrop.”

The story below from The Verge has more details as does Zoom’s blog post. TechRepublic has a separate story about similar changes being made to another platform: “Google Meet to become more immersive, inclusive and productive with new update.” –Matthew]

Zoom’s Immersive View could make video calls feel a bit more in-person

Simulating an office (or auditorium) in a Zoom meeting

By Ian Carlos Campbell
April 26, 2021

Zoom is rolling out a video background feature called Immersive View that could make video calls feel a bit more like an office meeting — or at least look a lot more like one. Zoom announced the feature last year at its Zoomtopia conference, but now it’s actually available for Free and Pro accounts attending meetings and webinars with up to 25 participants.

Immersive View builds on the virtual background features Zoom already has, but focuses on actually placing meeting attendees in a realistic-looking location, rather than just switching out a flat background. Meeting hosts can enable Immersive View from the same menu where you can find Speaker View and Gallery View; from there, Zoom will automatically place attendees in a variety of built-in virtual scenes like a board room or auditorium, or the meeting host can manually place them themselves.

Zoom says hosts can also resize attendees, move them around the scene, and upload their own scenes if they get bored of Zoom’s options. Theoretically any image could be used as an Immersive View background, but Zoom says matching the file type, aspect ratio, and resolution recommendations it has for virtual backgrounds will produce the best results.

Immersive View also features some notable limitations. For calls larger than 25 people, the remaining participants will hangout in a strip of video thumbnails at the top of the scene. Also, for anyone not running the latest version of Zoom on desktop or mobile, the background will default to whatever setting it was on before Immersive View was turned on.

So if you’re not using an updated Zoom client, your friends could be meeting in an art gallery, but all you’d see is the usual grid of boxes, with black backgrounds behind the other attendees. Recordings of Immersive View meetings run into a similar issue; they’ll be recorded in Zoom’s standard Speaker or Gallery View, rather than a fun virtual scene.

Zoom became the go-to video call service of the pandemic, but both Microsoft Teams and Skype beat it to background options like Immersive View. Microsoft updated both Teams and Skype with a feature called Together Mode in 2020 that places meeting attendees in the same virtual scene together, using computer vision to cut out faces and shoulders for easier placement in a virtual scene.

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