Digital StarLab – FAQ’s

STARLAB Set Up and Take Down Instructions


What is a digital planetarium like Digital STARLAB and how is it different than the Classic STARLAB system?

A digital planetarium uses a computer to generate images that are displayed by a projector through a special lens (called a “fisheye” lens which projects a 180 degree field of view with limited or no distortion).  Since a computer is creating the images, they can easily and quickly be changed.  Classic STARLAB requires cylinders to be changed out in order to change the image that is displayed inside the dome.  Digital planetariums tend to have less clear images and lower contrast ratios than Classic Starlab.

Classic STARLAB tends to be easier to set up and use than digital planetarium systems such as the Digital STARLAB.  Often, the application will dictate which system is preferable.  For an in-depth astronomy course, often a digital planetarium is preferred due to its ability to rapidly and quickly project many different astronomical images.  However, for an elementary, middle, or high school classroom often Classic STARLAB is preferred due to its ease of use, quick set-up time, durability, prepared the lesson plans and activities, and limited learning curve necessary to use the product.  Due to the design of Classic STARLAB, it has a much higher contrast ratio and clarity of image than any digital system.


How much do digital STARLAB packages cost?

Click here for the digital STARLAB price PDF.

All right, a digital planetarium is the right product for me.  Why should I choose the Digital STARLAB?

We feel that the Digital STARLAB gives the greatest digital planetarium experience for the money.  Our Classic STARLAB has been manufactured for over 30 years, and we are the inventors of the portable planetarium.  Our main focus is education, and we know what educators need in a product and how to supply it to them.

Our software package, Starry Night Small Dome, is world’s better (no pun intended) than the competition, and is only available with purchase of a Digital STARLAB.  Our software includes millions of stars, plenty of built-in functions and scripts, the ability to customize your own shows, the ability to play full-dome movies, and most importantly, allows student created content with Starry Night Middle School, High School, or College to be “played” inside the dome using Starry Night Small Dome.  No other portable digital planetarium can boast this excellent and professional software.  In fact, a version of Starry Night Small Dome powers the best fixed-dome planetariums in the world, which are the planetariums made by Spitz.  Each purchase of a Digital STARLAB includes three licenses of Starry Night Small Dome, allowing the educator to keep one on the laptop that powers the Digital STARLAB, one as a spare, and one to “play around with” when not at the dome.

Digital STARLAB offers a top-quality 1200 pixel DLP projector with a generous contrast ratio. Our fisheye lens offers a full 180 degree field of view, without distorted or “hot dog” stars that can be seen on some competitor’s models near the horizon.  We offer lifetime free technical support and training packages directly from the developers of the Starry Night software program for advanced techniques.


Is there any new content arriving for the Digital STARLAB?

We are extremely excited to announce that in the beginning of 2010, Starry Night will be releasing a full Earth Science curriculum to complement its existing astronomy software suite.  The Earth Science software will allow educators to immerse their students in a wide variety of concepts and applications of Earth Science, such as plate tectonics, weather, geology, and the atmosphere, among many others.  Similar to our astronomy package, Starry Night Earth Science Small Dome will allow students using Starry Night Earth Science to “play” their created content within the dome for greater immersion in the subject matter. The Layered Earth Small Dome will be available only to customers that have purchased a Digital STARLAB.

In addition, starting in the Summer of 2013, five of our most popular cylinders from our Classic Starlabs will be digitized and made available for the Digital Starlab. We'll start with Plate Tectonics, Biological Cell, Native American Mythology, Ocean Currents, and Weather. More cylinders will come on line as time progresses.


Your system is more expensive than the competition’s.  Why?

Digital STARLAB uses top-quality American-made optics and DLP projectors to provide the best image possible at the lowest cost of ownership.  No “hot-dog” stars along the horizon or cumbersome mirror systems with poor focus when the best components are used.  We also are the only Digital planetarium system to offer Starry Night Small Dome, a superb educational tool that allows students to “play” their content created with another Starry Night package right in the dome for the entire class.

A fisheye projection system can avoid many of the problems associated with a mirror-projection system.  Frequently, a mirror system cannot focus on more than one-half of the dome at once, meaning that one side is clear and the other side is blurry.  Mirror systems also tend to cut out parts of the sky in order to increase the resolution.  Normally, the users of digital planetaria are teaching the full sky, and not just portions of it.  Finally, mirrored systems tend to have pixels that are different sizes, depending upon where the projector is located in the dome.  The Digital STARLAB has all similarly sized pixels throughout the entire dome.


Your system is cheaper than the competition’s.  Why?

Unlike many of our competitors, we offer only one model of digital planetarium.  This means that we can focus our research and development dollars to improve one product, instead of having to invest in 3 or 4 systems at the same time.  It also means we can purchase components in greater quantities and pass the savings along to you.  We are also aware that in the educational world, budgets are tight.  We are able to keep our overhead costs low and pass the savings along to you.


What should I consider before purchasing a digital planetarium?

Please make sure you see systems you are considering in person before making a purchase decision.  Like most things, with a digital planetarium you get what you pay for.  Look for a company that has been around many years, so that when you need service in later years, they will still be there to support you.  Make sure the system you have selected uses high quality components (such as the projector and lens), and does not simply try to lead with the lowest price.  The planetarium must also be easy to use and provide good teaching value for the students.

I have heard that the more pixels, the better.  Is this true?

Like so many things in life, the answer is yes, but.  Among fisheye lens projectors, the greater the number of pixels, generally the clearer the image.  However, projector quality also plays a role in this answer.  A lower quality projector likely will not have the same optical components and focusing ability, so simply because the number of pixels is the same or better does not necessarily mean that the image will be noticeably better.  Generally speaking, a projector using a fisheye lens (i.e. the Digital STARLAB) will use the vertical number of pixels (i.e. 1080 or 1200) as the pixels that are actually displayed.

You may have heard that all that matters in a planetarium is the number or projected pixels, and that one should look for the lowest price per pixel. All other things being equal, more pixels are good. However, a digital planetarium is much more than the image processor. Prisms, lenses, light sources, and the main fish eye lens are equally important. A digital planetarium works as a whole, not as a sum of its components. Every part of the Digital STARLAB has been designed to work perfectly with the other parts.


Other systems have a remote control interface.  Why doesn’t the Digital STARLAB?

A remote control interface has advantages and disadvantages.  While it may seem extremely convenient when seeing a digital planetarium for the first time to use a remote control, be aware that by using a remote control, and having the remote control as your only means of controlling the unit, you are sacrificing some of the flexibility that made you consider a digital planetarium in the first place.  For instance, you are only able to load a limited number of scripts into the interface.  If a student has a in-depth or follow-up question that you did not plan in advance to answer, you may have some difficulty loading the appropriate image or script in a timely fashion.  A laptop computer gives you full access to everything that is being displayed at all times, and you can make changes to your program as needed on the fly.


Can I play full-dome movies in the Digital STARLAB?

Yes!  Digital STARLAB fully supports full-dome movies from a variety of suppliers.  Just be sure to mention that you are purchasing the movie for Digital STARLAB when ordering.  Full dome movies are specially formatted to play with little to no distortion in the entire dome.


Can I purchase a dome from you?  What are the features of the dome?

The Digital STARLAB uses a special dome with a black exterior and a light gray interior.  A fabric dome tends to work much better for digital projection systems than our Classic STARLAB dome.  The Digital STARLAB dome has an “airlock” which helps keep the dome darker as people enter and exit.  This “airlock” also helps the dome inflated as students are entering and exiting at the beginning and ending of a show.  Some of the competitor’s domes simply have a zipper set into the dome itself.  This method of entry and egress tends to allow much more light into the dome and the dome tends to collapse upon itself when large numbers of people enter or leave the dome, which can be a safety hazard.


What is the largest size dome you recommend?

We recommend domes of up to 7 meters in diameter.  The most common size that is purchased is 5 meters (16 feet).