Microsoft Teams has taken a huge step in making virtual meetings more fun and interactive by introducing 3D avatars that users can use instead of being on camera or having a webcam. This new feature offers users an alternative to the current binary option of video or no video during meetings.
According to Avery Salumbides, a product marketing manager at Microsoft, “Avatars for Teams offers an alternative to the current binary option of video or no video. Avatars for Teams give you that much-needed camera break, while still allowing you to collaborate effectively.” The avatars will animate based on vocal cues alone, which means that users can still use them even if their PC doesn’t have a webcam.
This new feature has been tested by Microsoft over the past year and is now ready for public preview. The company aims to roll these avatars out broadly in May. Microsoft has also added a new lighting system to improve the appearance of avatar skin and hair, and new customization options that include bindis and hearing aids, making the avatars more personalized.
In addition to animating based on vocal cues, these avatars will also animate when a user uses Teams emoji reactions. For instance, when a user raises a hand during a meeting, their Teams avatar will also raise their hand, and it will even handle a thumbs-up reaction.
Microsoft is planning to use these avatars mainly in its Microsoft Mesh integration in Teams for 3D meetings. Mesh is a collaborative platform that includes virtual avatars adapted from Microsoft’s acquisition of AltspaceVR, which it shut down earlier this month. The company has also partnered with Meta to roll out a VR experience for Teams with compatible headsets to allow people to hold meetings in VR with 3D avatars.