SMIL Players: The Unsung Heroes of Digital Signage

Unlocking the power and flexibility of digital displays, SMIL Player champion open standards, ensuring freedom from vendor lock-in. Their commitment to open platforms ensures powerful performance and guarantees unparalleled flexibility in the realm of multimedia. This is the tech secret every forward-thinker needs to know.

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What does SMIL Player mean?

A SMIL player is a software application or device designed to interpret and play back SMIL documents. The main function is to synchronize the playback of the multimedia components as defined by that document. This allows for complex multimedia presentations to be described in a standardized format and then played back consistently across different compatible platforms and devices.

SMIL has been particularly popular in sectors like digital signage, web-based multimedia presentations, and certain online learning platforms, where there's a need for precise control over multimedia playback.

In a typical digital signage ecosystem, content delivery and scheduling are often managed from a centralized content management system (CMS) or server. The signage screens or displays, where the content is shown, use players (software or hardware-based) to fetch and render this content. In the context of SMIL-based digital signage systems, the SMIL player acts as the client.

How does a SMIL Player work?

A SMIL player fetches content and instructions from the server. It interprets and displays the content as per SMIL markup, handles errors, caches for uninterrupted playback, and provides feedback to the central system. The use of SMIL language ensures that digital signage presentations are versatile, synchronized, and adaptable, meeting the diverse needs of modern advertising and information dissemination.

Fetching Content

The player, installed on a digital signage device, periodically communicates with the central server to fetch the latest SMIL documents and associated multimedia files. This ensures that the displayed content is up-to-date and aligned with the desired scheduling.

Interpreting SMIL Documents

Once the player receives a SMIL document from the server, it interprets the instructions encoded in the SMIL markup. This includes determining which media files to play, in what order, for how long, and how they should be displayed on the screen (e.g., size, position).

Seamless Playback

An advantage of using SMIL language for digital signage is that it can define seamless transitions between media elements, whether they are videos, images, or text. The player handles these transitions, ensuring smooth playback without abrupt jumps or interruptions.

Error Handling

In cases where there are missing media files or other errors in the SMIL document, a well-designed SMIL media player software will have error-handling mechanisms. This can mean skipping to the next item, showing a default image or message, or attempting to refetch the missing content.

Take a look at our technical documentation and tutorials on how to use SMIL efficiently.

Local Caching

To ensure continuous playback, even if there's temporary network disconnection, many SMIL based media players cache content locally. This means that once the player fetches the content and SMIL instructions, it can continue playback without needing a constant connection to the server.

Reporting and Analytics

Beyond just content playback, modern digital signage players, including SMIL players, often send back data to the central server. This data can include playback reports, screen on/off times, user interactions (if the signage is interactive), and error logs. Such feedback allows system administrators to monitor the health and effectiveness of their digital signage campaigns.

Why Should You Use a SMIL Player?

In essence, choosing a SMIL player isn't just a technical decision; it's a strategic one. It aligns with prudent business practices of cost-saving, ensuring longevity in investments, and providing flexibility for future growth and change.

Cost Efficiency

Adopting SMIL for your system means you're leveraging established technology, preventing you from spending unnecessary resources to “reinvent the wheel.” Instead of creating a bespoke solution from scratch, which can be expensive and time-consuming, you can utilize what's already available and proven to work.

Future-Proofing Investments

With technology rapidly evolving, there's always a risk of current solutions becoming obsolete. However, since SMIL language is an open standard, it's more likely to be supported and updated by a broad community. This gives you investment security, knowing that your chosen technology has a sustainable future.

SMIL Player playing 4 videos on Raspberry Pi
SMIL Player runs four videos in zones on Raspberry Pi. Click image to open YouTube.

Avoid Vendor Lock-ins

Nobody likes being tied down to a single provider, especially when there's a risk of price hikes or reduced support. Using a SMIL, which adheres to open standards, ensures you retain the freedom to switch vendors or solutions without facing major disruptions or costs.

Versatility and Broad Application

The world of digital displays is vast, ranging from airport information boards to digital menus in cafés. With a SMIL player, you have a versatile tool that can be adapted for various scenarios, saving you the trouble of seeking different solutions for different applications.

Consistency across Platforms

For businesses, consistent branding and messaging are paramount. SMIL based media players ensure that your multimedia content appears and functions consistently across different devices and platforms, maintaining a uniform brand presentation.

Reduced Training Costs

Due to its widespread use and standardized nature, there's a wealth of knowledge and resources available for SMIL. This can reduce the time and cost required to train staff, as compared to a more niche or proprietary solution.

Steps to Create SMIL Player Hardware

Creating a SMIL compatible media hardware requires a combination of hardware design, embedded system programming, and multimedia software development. Here's a high-level outline to give you an idea of the complete hardware process from scratch.

1. Define the Requirements:

  • Purpose: Determine the main functionalities you want for your player. For example, is it for digital signage, a kiosk, interactive displays, etc.?
  • Supported Formats: Define the video, audio, and image formats that your player should support.
  • Connectivity: Decide on networking capabilities (e.g., Wi-Fi, Ethernet).
  • Output: Consider what types of displays or projectors it will connect to and the necessary interfaces (e.g., HDMI, VGA).
  • Input: Consider if you want touch capabilities, remote control, or other input methods.

2. Select the Hardware:

  • Processor: A processor capable of handling multimedia decoding, such as ARM-based SoCs or similar.
  • Memory: Adequate RAM and storage memory (like eMMC or SSD) to store and buffer multimedia content.
  • Networking Components: Chips for Wi-Fi or Ethernet, if required.
  • I/O Ports: HDMI or other display ports, USB ports for storage or additional functionalities.
  • Audio Hardware: If audio output is necessary, consider DACs or built-in audio outputs.

3. Design the Circuit & PCB:

  • Circuit design tools, such as KiCad or Eagle, can be used.
  • Plan for power management, considering aspects like boot-up time and low-power modes.

4. Develop the Firmware/Software:

  • Operating System: Choose an OS suitable for embedded systems like Linux, RTOS, Android, etc.
  • SMIL Player Software: If you do not want to re-invent the wheel: On this site you can download our open source garlic-player for Linux, Windows macOS, and Android.
  • Drivers: Ensure drivers are available for all the hardware components, especially the GPU, networking chips, and display output.
  • Additional Features: Implement features like remote content management, automatic updates, logging, etc., if necessary.

5. Prototype and Test:

  • Before mass production, create prototype boards to test the hardware and software functionalities.
  • Test the system under various conditions – play different formats, test for long durations, and check the response to various user inputs.

6. Production and Deployment:

  • After successful prototyping and testing, move to mass production.
  • Consider aspects like the device's casing, cooling, and branding.
  • Once produced, deploy the devices in the intended environments and ensure remote management and updates if needed.

7. Support and Maintenance:

  • Offer support for software updates, especially to handle newer multimedia formats or security patches.
  • Hardware support for repairs or replacements as required.

Ready To Go SMIL Hardware

Building a hardware player is a complex task that requires expertise in both hardware design and software development. It would be beneficial to collaborate with experts in each field or work with companies specializing in embedded system design and multimedia solutions.

Certainly, if you don't wish to invest time and resources into developing a SMIL Player Hardware from scratch, there are easier solutions available:

Instead of building your own, you can purchase a ready-made SMIL player from reputable manufacturers like IAdea. IAdea is a recognized name in the digital signage industry, and they offer a range of SMIL-compliant media players that are designed to work seamlessly with multimedia presentations. By opting for such a solution, you can save on development time and costs, and benefit from a tried-and-tested product that meets industry standards.

SMIL Player from IAdea
Ready to go SMIL Player hardware from IAdea


Choosing a SMIL media player software is a savvy business decision that goes beyond just technical considerations. By leveraging this established technology, businesses can achieve cost efficiencies, avoiding the pitfalls of creating bespoke solutions from the ground up. The open standard nature of SMIL ensures both a consistent multimedia experience across platforms and guards against the risks associated with vendor lock-ins.

This flexibility, combined with the versatility to adapt to a multitude of digital display scenarios, positions the free SMIL technology as a strategic tool for future-proofing investments. Additionally, the widespread use of SMIL means easier staff training and a wealth of supporting resources. In essence, opting for a SMIL media player software aligns with forward-thinking business practices, ensuring scalability, consistency, and sustainability in multimedia presentations.