Zoom can now turn you into a cartoon avatar during video meetings - but what’s it like?

Avatars may brighten future work meetings  (Zoom)
Avatars may brighten future work meetings (Zoom)

Zoom has launched animated avatars that mimic your movements and facial expressions during meetings.

The feature is currently limited to the video chat app’s beta program, which lets paying customers preview future updates. It follows the release of animal avatars earlier this year that are available for free.

Zoom says a cartoon twin can stand in for you in meetings when you don’t want to appear on video, including when you’re eating. The avatar only copies your face and head movements, so your boss won’t be able to tell if you’re munching a sandwich during the next all-hands meeting - just don’t forget to mute your mic first.

Until now, camera-shy people could only use a static profile photo or an animal avatar to represent themselves during Zoom meetings. The human avatars look more like Apple’s Memoji, with similarly round faces and cartoonishly large eyes, making them more appropriate for work than using an animated cow head, for instance.

Zoom’s latest update is part of the tech industry’s bid to make communications more virtual. Starting with digital avatars, like Memoji and Snapchat’s Bitmoji, virtualisation has spread to workplace software alongside the rise of hybrid work.

Earlier this year, Zoom rival Microsoft Teams introduced a “Together” mode that seated meeting members alongside each other in a virtual space, such as an auditorium. Zoom copied the feature last spring, with the launch of “Immersive View.”

Zoom plans to add more hairstyles and facial customisations for avatars (Zoom)
Zoom plans to add more hairstyles and facial customisations for avatars (Zoom)

At the niche end, virtual-reality headsets like Meta Quest 2 allow you to hold meetings in VR for up to 16 people using the Horizon Workrooms app. While video game streamers on YouTube and Twitch have long used virtual avatars to represent themselves onscreen, often appearing as anime-style characters.

Zoom’s tech uses your device’s camera to detect when a face is on the screen and apply an avatar effect. That means your cartoon self won’t be visible if you try to sneak away to the loo or kitchen during a meeting.

Zoom says its tech does not use facial recognition and therefore cannot identify, recognise, or distingush between different faces.

How do you enable the feature?

• Head to the meeting toolbar.

• Hit the “stop video” button, selecting the “choose virtual background” or “choose video filter” option.

• Navigate to the avatars tab.

Is it any good?

Free users can currently choose from 23 different avatars, including animals such as a cat, dog, fox, panda, and bear, among others.

Trying out the feature, we found it to be a bit buggy and limited at present. The animal avatar did not always move its mouth and head to mirror our movements. It would also vanish for a split second before reappearing onsreen.

More updates are in the works, including new facial features and hairstyles, which could also address some of those glitches.