Microsoft Teams adds background effects and live captions

Microsoft Teams has added a host of new features as the company looks to better compete with rival Zoom.

Microsoft announced today users of the video conferencing software can now enjoy new custom background effects and enable live captions to make meetings more inclusive. Users of Microsoft’s free Teams version can also schedule meetings and send out invitations in advance.

With remote work on the rise, Microsoft was inspired to “accelerate new features to customize your video experiences and make meetings more productive, comfortable, and fun.”

Using a highly trained model that differentiates the user from their background, Teams can now impose a custom background over everything in the background. To take advantage of this feature, users can upload a background of their own or choose from one of Microsoft’s pre-made background collections.

Microsoft will also release 20 virtual backgrounds for users to show their pride and support for the LGBTQI+ community.

Free Teams version users can now schedule meetings and send out invitations in advance too. Meeting hosts can either send a link directly to meeting participants or send an invite using Outlook or Google calendar. This particular feature is available to current users — new Teams users should gain access to this feature soon.

Microsoft has also enabled live captions within Teams. Not only will this feature help make Teams more inclusive but it will also help Teams users to empower those with different hearing abilities or language proficiencies to use Teams. At this time, live captions are only available as a preview in US English.

Beyond announcing new features in Teams, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, also gave an inside look at how Teams has fared over the last few months.

According to Spataro, Teams users turned on video in Teams meetings two times more than they did before the coronavirus pandemic. Spataro also noted total video calls in Teams grew by over 1,000% in the month of March.