Creating a custom, AI-driven background in the Zoom videoconferencing app is a great way to hide background clutter while working from home. But with a couple of extra steps, you can go crazy with custom video backgrounds and have some fun, too!

Normally, a webcam shows just what it sees: you, your kitchen table, maybe an unkempt desk in the background. But Zoom, like Microsoft Teams, can use custom backgrounds that completely obscure all that background clutter. After enabling that background, the only thing the camera will see is your face, like this:

zoom static image Mark Hachman / IDG

Zoom’s AI-generated backgrounds are pretty seamless with a good PC.

We’ll show you how to enable that option and take advantage of Zoom’s built-in backgrounds. But there’s more: Zoom offers background video, too—a looping video that can replace the Zoom’s static background image. We’ll show you how to select your own background video to replace Zoom’s basic options.

How to turn on custom backgrounds within Zoom

Historically, Zoom required a “green screen” to enable custom backgrounds—yes, the literal green backdrop traditionally used by movies to enable a canvas for computer-generated special effects. That changed last year, when the Zoom desktop app became smart enough to distinguish you from the objects behind you. Custom backgrounds don’t seem to work on the Zoom web client, though.

Zoom has a rather complex list of minimum requirements that you’ll need to enable custom backgrounds, but here’s what they boil down to:

  • An up-to-date Zoom app running on Windows 7, 8, or 10
  • A PC with a supported microprocessor: a quad-core 6th-gen Core i5 (except a U-series chip); a quad-core 4th-gen Core i7; or any 3GHz processor with 8 cores or more.

If you don’t know what you have, don’t worry. This is all simple enough that it will either  work, or it won’t. Virtual backgrounds are also available for iOS (with an iPhone 8, 8+, or X, or an iPad Pro and the 5th and 6th-gen iPads) but support for Android isn’t listed.

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When the Zoom main screen opens up, you’ll see the Zoom main page. The first thing to do is to click the Zoom Settings gear in the upper right-hand corner. This opens up a wealth of options, but the relevant one for us is the Virtual Background option. 

zoom main screen arrow Mark Hachman / IDG

The gear icon hides Zoom’s Settings menu.

Zoom makes this step extremely easy. By default, Zoom turns on your webcam, and you should see what others in your chat will see: you, and your background. But if you click one of the images below your video window, you should see what’s behind you replaced with either a static image (the Golden Gate Bridge is a favorite) or else a slowly looping video background, like the northern lights or Zoom’s beach scene. (As you might expect, video files have a small camcorder icon in the corner.)



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