Why we use SMIL for Digital Signage?

Definition of SMIL

SMIL is a markup language for multimedia contents. It helps you to create playlists with media elements. The language is based on XML and is an abbreviation for:

Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language

SMIL helps you create playlists with movie clips, images, and music streams that can also be time-controlled. You can customize the layout and configure multiple regions on the screen. These zones then play their content individually.

SMILe drawing

SMIL is becoming more and more popular in the digital signage market because it has a significant advantage:

Advantage 1: It is a standardized language!

For you, this means more independence, more competition, and more innovation.

If you have a SMIL compatible player, you can use SmilControl!

This gives you not only a much wider choice of devices. You can also manage players from different manufacturers by SmilControl and - if necessary - upgrade your media player to a newer model.

Also, you benefit from the fact that we as a supplier can concentrate fully on our software products. We do not have to develop and maintain an own complex markup language for multimedia.

Development history

logo w3c

The first version was standardized in 1998 by the W3C and extended the following years. The current standard in version 3.0 was adopted in 2008.

A first major industrial application of SMIL was in HD-DVD and MMS. It is also part of the current epub 3.2 standard for e-book readers. However, the language did not have a real breakthrough. It was not until 2008 that the Taiwanese company IAdea discovered the language for its products and began to develop digital signage SMIL hardware players. Since then there has been a kind of Renaissance.
For the industry, this was the first important step towards reducing dependencies. If someone wanted to operate a digital signage network before, he had to buy the server component (CMS) and the client software (media player) from a single source. Thanks to a uniform SMIL standard, it was now possible to use components from different manufacturers for this purpose.


Like HTML, SMIL is a registered industry standard. Just compare it to a web page: if it is in compliance with the standard, you can use any web browser. Mozilla, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari- no matter which page you go to; it is usually displayed in the same way except for a few small things. The same goes for the Digital Signage SMIL players.

What does SMIL do?

SMIL has been tried-and-tested, it is robust and offers many functionalities.

  • Circular playlists for endless program loops. This is the primary form of presentation of digital signage e. g. In a shop window, shopping malls, waiting rooms, etc….
  • Time-controlled playlists. Like a TV program, you can plan content in advance and play it at specific times.
  • Shuffle playlists, e.g. to display a different news feed for each loop pass
  • Multiple zones, e.g. for news ticker/text scroller
  • Control multiple screens simultaneously
  • Interactions for kiosk systems or lectures
  • Different media such as videos, pictures, texts and web pages can be linked efficiently via networks (mashup)
  • There are XPath functions and expressions to make playback decisions dynamically at runtime
  • Due to the DOM structure, it is also possible to use Javascript
  • Expandability through custom tags for e.g. Index updates, logs or configuration commands
  • Bandwidth controlling to keep network utilization low

What does SMIL do not?

Image Digital Signage SMIL Source

The language describes in general the presentation of multimedia. No more - no less!

Die Sprache beschreibt allgemein wie multimediale Inhalte präsentiert bzeziehungsweise dargestellt werden. Nicht mehr und nicht weniger.

The following features are additionally required for the operation of a digital signage network:

  • A pull mechanism to check periodically, whether playlists have changed
  • Handling logs and play reports
  • Remote administration and configuration functions, e.g. Reboots volume or brightness adjustments, etc.

Since these functionalities are not the job of SMIL, vendors may implement them differently.

Advantage 2: Anyone can develop SMIL Components!

Due to the openness of the standard, the expandability and the publicly accessible documentation on the websites of the W3C, any software developer can develop SMIL-compatible software components (player, CMS etc). There are no obstructive patents or the obligation to sign non-disclosure agreements. Thanks to the existing language features, SMIL can prevent the programmer from making wrong decisions about the control language design.

How does the developer reality look like?

According to a study by the industry portal Invidis from 2012, more than 120 providers in Germany alone offer digital signage solutions. More than 60% of these are smaller companies.
Many projects only start as an ancillary business with a minimum requirement profile. For example, because an important existing customer of an advertising agency requests only to play media in an endless loop. At this point in time, the company usually has little or no digital signage experience.

In the apparently simple implementation of customer requirements, coupled with the usual price and time pressure, decision makers often neglect conceptual sustainability. The main thing is that the important customer will be happy. Both the control language and the software go quickly and easily in the hand. As time passes, the requirements increase because of success, customer requirements, and technical innovation required. For example, the implementation of differentiated time controls.


This is the point where the probability of maneuvering into a technical dead end, which may become noticeable much later.

Eventually, a functional request comes up and during the realization, it becomes apparent, that the easy way was already blocked at the beginning of the project by a premature design decision. If time and manpower are lacking, complex workarounds have to be implemented. This often leads to side-effects in the code, which are difficult to locate. The system becomes more unstable, error-prone and the cost for maintenance and implementation of further functionalities increases immeasurably.

The scenario, of course, is not specific to digital signage. SMIL will not relieve us of the need for good quality assurance, communication and documentation. The management must also have an understanding of these lengthy processes. But at least we need to deal with one elementary problem less. SMIL already provides a sophisticated control language for our digital signage projects.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Advantage 3: Specialized service providers and full-service providers

The standardization of SMIL enables specialized technical service providers. These may relate exclusively to one component, e.g. just the CMS, or as in the case of IAdea focus on hardware players. Without having to offer a complete solution, even smaller companies can reach the market faster with their innovations and new ideas.

The result is diversification. As even full-service providers can assemble their customized products more easily from a wider range of technical solutions.

Where can I get digital signage SMIL components?

Hardware Player

Die bekanntesten Anbieter sind IAdea Jahren Qbic International. Dokumentationen stehen offen: http://a-smil.org und SMIL Essentials

Software Player

There are a number of available software players that partially understand SMIL 2.1, e.g. Real Player or QuickTime and also the fully SMIL 3.0 compatible Ambulant. But all these players are not customized to the needs of the digital signage market. They lack the functions described above.

For these reasons, we decided in 2016 to invest in the development of a player Garlic Player. Which is available to anyone under a free license.

Another free SMIL compatible software player comes from SignageOS.

Content Management Systems

There are some CMS service providers who offer SMIL as an option or as an entry-level option. E. g. Easyscreen, Scala, Signagelive, Stinova, etc.

SmilControl has adopted SMIL exclusively for its same-named CMS, because we are convinced that the flexible combination of technology modules will be successful in the long term.

Summary: Digital Signage with SMIL

In the incarnation as Digital Signage SMIL, their importance is growing. SMIL supports our application profiles in an optimal way. Without this language, we would not have been able to implement our business model in 2012.

What is SMIL?

SMIL is a standardized markup language for synchronizing multimedia content. It allows different media to be displayed in playlists in a time-controlled or sequential manner. In addition, triggers for interactions can be set and controlled. The openly documented industry standard SMIL is license-free and easy to learn although it is very powerful.

What are the Advantages of SMIL for Digital Signage?

Thanks to SMIL, media player and management software from different manufacturers work together. Companies save costs and customers benefit from a wider choice of devices and software. This promotes competition, which in turn leads to more and faster innovation. As an industry standard, SMIL is well documented and available license-free.


Do you have further questions?

Our contact data

SmilControl GmbH
Niederaue 1a
D-30419 Hanover


☎ +49 (0) 511 - 96 499 560

Local court Hanover
HRB 221981
VAT-Id: DE 281 780 194

Authorized to represent:
Nikolaos Sagiadinos