October 2, 2023

Get Ready For Better Background Blur in Web Video Calls

image of Zoom with a blurred background on a video call

Video calls, especially for work, are more common than ever. Intel, Google, Apple, and others are now working on a proposal to improve a much-used feature in web video calls: background blur.

Most popular video call services allow you to blur the background of your video feed, including Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and others. The feature is a great way to hide personal information (e.g. photos of family members on a wall) and distractions, but right now, each web app has to implement its own background blur technology. That usually involves cloud-based software or artificial intelligence libraries like Google’s Tensorflow, sometimes with mixed results.

Thankfully, that could change soon. Two Intel engineers and one Apple developer drafted a proposal for a ‘Background Blur API’ in web browsers, which would allow any web pages that access cameras to add a blur effect with minimal effort. Google’s Chrome team just announced an “intent to prototype,” meaning the feature should start being tested in Chrome soon.

Power usage in background blur technologies
Power consumption comparison between different background blur features (proposed API is “our proposal”)

The new API could make background blur more responsive and less battery-draining. Initial testing showed power usage on an Intel PC with Windows 11 was nearly identical to a regular video call with no effects, and roughly twice as efficient as two popular machine learning models for background blur. The functionality will also use the operating system’s own blur technology if available, which could lead to better blur effects.

There’s still a long way to go before the feature will show up in web browsers. The proposal could also not go anywhere, but at least a few people at Apple and Google are interested in making it happen.

Source: Google Groups, GitHub

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