Multi-Zones for Digital Signage

Multi-zones help maximize your digital ad spaces. Furthermore, they can be used to create interesting applications and work schedules. You can learn more about them in this article.

Multi-Zones in Digital Signage Player
Our SMIL-Player
shows images, colors, videos, and WebGL in a messy multi-zone demo.

What is meant by Multi-Zones?

Multi-Zones divide your screen area into different regions. Unlike split screens or layers, these zones are allowed to overlap partially or completely. SMIL's multi-zone concept is incredibly flexible and tailored to dynamic screen layout.

Differences to Split Screens

Split screens divide a screen into different areas. Games and surveillance games use this a lot. You may be familiar with this from racing games or first-person shooters. The screen area is “split” into two to four areas, and two to four people compete against each other. Many people in the digital signage industry talk about split screens, but they actually mean multiple zones.

Differences to Layers

Most video editing and image processing software, such as Photoshop or GIMP, use a technology called layers. These are stacked or virtually areas in which users embed images, audio or video elements. This technique has especially been used for timelines. The image processing layers overlap completely, unlike split screens where they lie next to each other.

Compare Split screens, Layers, and Multi-Zonen
Split Screen vs. Layers vs. Multi-Zones

Multi-Zones represent a symbiosis of Layers and Split Screens

The multiple zone concept allows you to define regions that are completely non-overlapping, partially overlapping, or completely overlapping. This enables the design to have great freedom and versatility. Especially, the zone concept of SMIL is powerful, as it supports the exchange of complete playlists without requiring the creation of a new overall presentation.

What are the advantages of Multi-Zones?

Overlapping multi-zones allow news tickers. Multiple users can create and synchronize playlists, even if the individual image or video items reside on different servers. These could be distributed anywhere in the world.

Applications of this flexible screen layout would be things like dynamic overlays on top of videos like on YouTube, subtitles, language synchronization, and the ability to scale the editing process.

I like to use the phrase: Digital signage software provides infrastructure, not content creation. This is clearly shown with SMIL's multi-zone concept.

Multi-zones Old school

Prior digital signage software considered the presentation as an integrated unit, similar to PowerPoint. At the end of the generation process, there was a large file that included the complete presentation. The file was transferred to a projector and played back. The same as the F5 key in PowerPoint.

Multiple zones were made by putting the corresponding image or video in the software and setting the layer with the Z-index. To accelerate this process, there are templates similar to PowerPoint. Some software allows you to work with multiple layers in a timeline.

But this is what content creation is. You create content and organize it into slides, then save the file and transfer it. Each change requires a new file to be uploaded.

Another approach was to save the presentation in XML format and only transfer the changed content. But the complicated editing process often stayed as content creation.

Modern Multi-Zones

SMIL Multi-Zones enables a wholly different approach. We don't consider this to be presentations and slides anymore; we consider it to be playlists and content. Zones represent independent containers that can synchronize content and playlists. Let's say you make a playlist A that plays images and videos in a loop.

1st Extension with News Ticker

First, you use the whole screen, and later you decide to add a news ticker. You can change the layout and add a second zone for the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. Playlist A remains unaffected.

2nd Extension with additional Playlist and Video Overlay

After some time, you want to show your employees in Playlist B on the right side. Now you've divided your screen into three zones and additionally decide to play a video in full screen every ten minutes. That would need a fourth invisible zone where the video pauses and hides the content behind it.

3rd extension through Task Distribution

You let an advertising agency A maintain playlist A. Employee B maintains the employee zone, and the news ticker gets its content from an RSS feed that updates twice a day. Each zone's caretakers work independently of each other. It would be absolutely impossible to implement this scaling with a layout templates in a presentation and slide concept.

The power of such a concept is even more clear when you consider that the playlists are basically folders that can be nested. It enables both an editorial hierarchy and multiple independent contributors with self-managed, time-limited playlists.

This is accurately what SMIL offers at zero cost.

Praxisbeispiel Multizone
An example of overlapping multi-zones using a fully automated german pharmacy emergency service that we developed a few years ago in cooperation with Aponet for ApoTV. It features an image background with a video playlist and OpenStreetMap representations as two zone overlays. The video playlist played full screen during the regular hours.

Digital Signage as Infrastructure

In digital signage, infrastructure means technology that helps you create and organize playlists or presentations as efficiently as possible. Instead of learning new tools, you use your favorite ones to create content such as images and videos. You could also choose to hire services providers who will also use their own familiar software for this purpose.

A number of concepts exist for this, including multi-zones. Further techniques are presented in the articles on Digital Signage Templates and APIs.


Multi-Zones are like split screens and layers at the same time. With this technology, you can put news tickers and videos with extra information on top of content. Furthermore, zones enable decentralized editing of screen presentations, which contributes to the scalability of tasks.

Gravatar Nikolaos Sagiadinos
Author: Niko Sagiadinos
Developer & Co-Founder SmilControl – Digital Signage
Visit me on: LinkedIn or GitHub


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