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StarLab has thousands of lessons to keep young learners engaged.

At StarLab, we give you the support you need to make lessons come alive — every day of the school year. Whether you’re teaching lessons about the weather, mythology, the Milky Way or the migratory habits of birds, StarLab’s professional inflatable planetarium, projector and educational cylinders ensure you will have everything you need to engage your students.

General FAQ

Capacity will vary with the size and maturity of students. The Standard dome has a recommended capacity of 27 people, the Giant dome has a recommended capacity of 56 people. The Digital Domes range from 15 to over 100 students.

StarLab should always be set up in an open space such as a cafeteria, gym, multipurpose room or large classroom. The height of the Standard dome is 10.5 feet while the Giant dome is 13.5 feet. You should allow at least 6 inches above the dome for a ceiling with fluorescent lighting and 12 inches above the dome for a ceiling with incandescent lighting. The Standard dome requires a room with a minimum of 21 x 21 feet; the Giant dome requires a room with a minimum of 27 x 27 feet. There should always be a clear path out of the StarLab and it should not block any exits. Although the fabric is flame resistant, StarLab should never be set up near an open flame, incandescent lighting, radiators, space heaters or other heat sources.

About 15 minutes after you bring the boxes in you will be able to say “please come in” to the students. At the end of the day, if you can leave the planetarium in place on the floor, then only about 5 minutes is needed for the dome to deflate. If you are putting it away, then about 15 minutes to collapse the dome and stow everything back in the duffel bag and cases.

You enter through the larger of the two tubes connected to the dome. The kids love to crawl in but anyone can get in by merely bending over and walking through the entrance tunnel.

The heaviest box is the one holding the projector: about 40 lbs which includes the Astronomy and More notebook. The dome weighs about 45 lbs. The fan and case weigh about 22 lbs.

Because of its unique design, the StarLab can accommodate visitors who are restricted to wheelchairs, have walkers or are otherwise physically challenged. Instead of having these individuals use the entrance tunnel, they can enter and exit the planetarium by going in and out under the edge of the dome. To do this, you will need a second person to assist you. Individuals who are physically challenged should be brought into the dome before the rest of the visitors. Once the entire group has been seated, back the wheelchair into the opening of the entrance tunnel. In this way, they will be able to see everything without blocking the view of other visitors. (We only recommend this in this particular situation.) When the program is over, move the wheelchair out of the tunnel and place it next to the projector.

Digital FAQ

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 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.

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 worlds 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.

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 online as time progresses.

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.

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.

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.

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 fisheye 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.

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 an 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.

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.

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.

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

The StarLab dome system comes with a native 4k projector, which enables you to bring all your visuals to life in stunning detail. Your students will experience the difference with:

– Unparalleled Resolution: Four times the resolution of FHD.

– High Picture Brightness: 5500 Lumen High Brightness gives you unmatched clarity.

– Hassle-free setup: It’s portable and plugs right in.

Classic FAQ

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.

The Classic StarLab produces images using an opto-mechanical projector by shining bright light through a film canister. In contrast, the Digital StarLab uses a DLP projector and a “fisheye” lens to 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 change images very quickly.

The classic StarLab , while not as powerful in astronomy as the digital StarLab, does have a number of advantages:

  • Flexibility. Digital planetariums are very useful in the field of astronomy, geography, and meteorology. However, there are times when a teacher wants to teach other subjects with the system. The classic StarLab has several cylinders that were developed to offer cross-curricular value: bird migration, Lewis and Clark navigation, Hindu mythology, etc. 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. 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.

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 by clicking here.

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.

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. Fisheye 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 drawbacks 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.

Yes, we do offer a trade-in credit towards a new projector. However, we no longer offer parts or repair services for the SL-135 Fiber-Arc projector.