Classic StarLab – FAQ’s

STARLAB Set Up and Take Down Instructions


What is Classic STARLAB?

The Classic Starlab System is a teaching aid geared toward astronomy. In brief, it is composed of a dome made out of opaque vinyl, and a projector, which displays images on the inside of the dome. The projector produces bright light, which is fully adjustable by the user.

The images are produced using Starlab cylinders, which are made out of film. The film used is entirely opaque, except for the portions where the images are. In this way, all the light from the projector is blocked except what is needed to create images. A major advantage of the film is that it affords nearly infinite contrast ratios.


What is the difference between Classic STARLAB and Digital STARLAB?

The Classic Starlab produces images by shining bright light through a film canister. In contrast, the Digital Starlab uses a DLP projector and a “fish-eye” lens display images. These images are created by a laptop computer using professional astronomy software, Starry Night. The digital Starlab is more versatile in the sense that it can display moving images, such as planets revolving around the sun, or a tour of the milky way galaxy. It can also changes images very quickly. As a trade off for this capability, the digital Starlab doesn’t have as deep and black of a night sky as the Classic Starlab.


When is a Classic STARLAB preferable to a digital planetarium?

The classic Starlab afford clearer images and better contrast ratios than digital versions. While not as powerful in astronomy, it does have a number of advantages:

  • Flexibility. Digital planetariums are very useful in the field of astronomy. However, there are times when a teacher wants to teach other subjects with the system. To that end, several Starlab cylinders have been developed that offer cross-curricular value: biological cell, plate tectonics, bird migration, ocean currents, mythology, and others. Please note that this list is not all-inclusive. Since the classic Starlab can be used by several departments, the cost of the system can be spread out.
  • Ease of use. Some people do not like using computers to teach. If this is the case, the Classic Starlab is perfect. Since there are no electronics to master, there is almost no learning curve. Simply set up the system, place the cylinder you wish to use on the projector, and you are ready to teach.
  • Durability. Classic Starlabs have a proven record of reliability. With proper care, some systems have lasted over 20 years! This is due to a variety of factors. Firstly, the domes used are made out of strong vinyl, which resists wear. Often, digital planetariums use fabric domes which are less durable. Secondly, our projectors are much less complex than digital units. With less parts, there is less to go wrong. Digital components are often expensive, making repairs costly, perhaps thousands of dollars. In comparison, a Classic projector can often be repaired for only a few hundred dollars. If you are using your planetarium with small children, this difference can be very valuable.
  • Cost effectiveness. The classic Starlab system is cheaper than most digital varieties. Although there are some digital planetariums which compete with the classic Starlab on price, they use inferior optics, and suffer the same drawbacks as more advanced digital systems. In addition, because the Classic Starlab can be used by students from several departments, it is cheaper on a per student basis.


What are cylinders?

Classic Starlab cylinders are made of film, which afford near infinite contrast ratios. This is because film can be entirely transparent and entirely opaque, making the difference between the two striking. Each cylinder is assembled by hand, colored as necessary, and supported by sturdy steel rings. On the base plate of our projectors are four strong magnets, which attract the steel rings, holding the cylinder in place.

Starlab cylinders are available in a wide variety, covering many subjects. A complete listing can be found below:

Pricing and other information on Starlab cylinders can be found at

As an additional tool, curriculum guides are available, free of charge, for each cylinder. These provide valuable information on the topic, sample lesson plans, and links to additional sources of information.


There is a digital projector (without dome or case) that isn’t much more money.  Why should I consider Classic STARLAB?

The classic Starlab is valuable for the reasons listed above: ease of use, cross curricular value, and durability.

Consider what a digital planetarium is: it consists of an electronic DLP projector, a computer, and a lens to display images a full 180°. It must have each of these components to function. Projectors and computers use complex electronic components, components which are not cheap. Fish eye lenses are complex optics, and also not cheap to manufacture. This is why good quality digital planetariums cost anywhere from approximately $40,000 to hundreds of thousands for museum quality pieces.

For this reason, budget digital planetariums do not use the same high grade components as full range digital systems. In addition, they suffer the same draw backs as every other digital unit:

  • Complexity. Digital planetariums are run off of computers, using special software. This means the user must learn how to use the software in order to teach. This may be more than a teacher is willing to do. Also, cheap digital systems use remote control interfaces, which can be cumbersome. Imagine trying to program a VCR with no screen to see what you’re doing! With the classic Starlab, simply place a cylinder on the projector and you are good to go.
  • Fragile. The complexity of digital systems makes them exceedingly expensive to repair. If you are demonstrating to a class of fifth graders and one of them knocks over the projector, breaking it, the repairs may be so expensive it is better to purchase a new system. In contrast, if the same scenario occurred with a Classic Starlab repairs can often be done for only a few hundred dollars.
  • Lower image quality.