SMIL - Video SMIL - SMIL Players

There are alternative ways to present streaming video on the Internet. A relatively new protocol is called SMIL (pronounced 'smile') or SMIL – Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language which allows text, video, music, images and graphics to be integrated into a web page while providing control over timing and positioning.

SMIL was first recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in June 1999. The W3C is an international body which develops standards for the Internet. The current version of SMIL is 2.1 and can be used to stream multimedia to a variety of devices such as cell phones, PDAs and PCs.

SMIL is very similar to HTML and can be written using a text editor such as Notepad. There is a 'head' section that has information about the layout and a 'body' section that contains the instructions for presenting the various media. These instructions include the source of the media which could be from any location on the Internet, the position of the media in the layout and the timing. These instructions allow almost any kind of digital media such as music, video, text or graphics to be presented in any sequence and at any position on the screen.

Typically, a music soundtrack will play in the background while video or text or still images can move across the screen, fade in or fade out and any combination of media materials can be used at the same time or in any sequence. The ability to have the source material in various locations reduces the load on a specific server – the source material can be drawn from many different locations.

Anyone who is familiar with HTML will be able to write SMIL code. Several elements are defined that allow you to include various media, their timings and their position. Media can be repeated any number of times, and several media sources can be stopped at the same time.

In addition, a number of transitions can be applied to the media allowing you to fade from one media source to another in a variety of pre-defined ways. Current transitions include fade, clockWipe, and spiralWipe amongst others.

SMIL can be integrated into any HTML web page, but browser support is not universal. It can be used in Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer (version 5.5 and up), but other browsers such as Firefox require a special plugin.

Both RealMedia and QuickTime have support for SMIL and a JAVA player called SOJA can be used to view SMIL in almost any web browser. SOJA does not have to be installed – if your web browser supports JAVA you can watch any SOJA presentation.

As mentioned above, you can also view SMIL presentations on your mobile phone. Several hand-held devices have implemented SMIL and a subset of SMIL known as MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) allows pictures and videos to be integrated with text messages.

SMIL has many advantages over other types of streaming media. The ability to use media from various sources reduces the bandwidth and storage requirements of the overall presentation. This can provide an alternative to streaming video – video files can be edited and parts of them can be replaced with text, still images and music files that could be stored on various servers to spread the bandwidth load.

The ability to combine various media has a lot of artistic potential. Unfortunately, the majority of SMIL presentations so far are rather amateurish, giving the whole genre more nerd appeal than sex appeal. This is sure to change as more people begin using SMIL and exploring its real potential.

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