Stardome Upgrade October 2013 – Part One

*Posted by warikl on behalf of the Stardome Observatory & Planetarium


The planetarium industry is constantly evolving; new technologies are being developed to take audiences on more wondrous journeys, and providing presenters with the tools to develop rich stories and educational experiences. The digital planetarium at Stardome was installed just over five years ago, and the time had come for a refresh of the technology to ensure Stardome was able to continue to deliver world class astronomical and entertainment based programs. And so in October, 2014 Stardome will close its doors to the public for 10 days and begin the process of upgrading its systems and installing new features to enhance the overall audience experience. During the closedown period the exhibits, displays and telescopes were still open to the public, but behind the closed doors to the planetarium there will be a flurry of activity involving the installation of new lighting, new server hardware to run the planetarium, projectors are being refurbished, cables run and software updated.

Stardome Lighting The most noticeable of the new features to anyone walking into the planetarium, will have to be the new lighting system that is being installed to complement the already popular music shows. Ten towers positioned around the dome house new moving fixtures to add that rock concert element to the music shows. Imbedded behind the dome walls are also two high power lasers, set to fire over the heads of the audiences, creating additional effects to draw them into the overall music experience.

The lighting sequences are all controlled and time synced to the music and visuals on the planetarium thanks to some new lighting control software developed in New Zealand. The whole rig is being designed by theatrical lighting specialist Martin Searancke, whose lighting design credits include the hugely successful season of Miss Saigon at Auckland’s Civic Theatre; Martin also worked on the lighting design for Stardome’s production of War of the World’s last year.

But the new lighting is only one element of the overall upgrade that will be conducted during the closedown period. A key element within the planetarium is the two large Sony SRX-105 (SXRD) projectors. These ultra-high-resolution projectors were installed during the initial digital upgrade and had been running without a glitch for around 13,000 hours, so they are in need of an overhaul if they are to continue to operate into the future. Replacing the optical blocks within each projector will essentially be the same as putting in a new projector, effectively giving each projector a full recondition. Stardome E&S logo

However the core component to the planetarium would have to be the Evans and Sutherland Digistar software and hardware, which provides all the astronomical content, and allows for the playback of full dome show content. Since its initial installation with Digistar 3, Stardome has maintained an upgrade path with Evans and Sutherland, progressing to Digistar 4 when it came available as a software update a few years ago.

Stardome Digistar 5 logoWith the release of Digistar 5 and its powerful new astronomical features, Stardome is in need of not only a software upgrade, but a full hardware replacement to be able fully realise the capability of this new system. Driving the planetarium is a rack of 10 servers which are responsible for rendering the content out to the projectors as well as processing the 5.1 audio mix, and providing the presenters with a simple but powerful user interface. As the Digistar software evolved from release to release the new capabilities added more processing requirements on the existing hardware. By replacing the planetarium hardware Stardome has gained the ability to further enhance the audience experience through future software releases and the new features they may bring.

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