Our Competitors Say the Darndest Things...

The following are some of the misleading, incorrect, or downright wacky statements to be found on some of our competitors' web sites and our explanation of the truth of the matter.

From Science First/Starlab:

What They Say


The base “Digital Starlab uses top-quality American-made optics and DLP projectors...”

InFocus projectors are made in China (per InFocus staff).

InFocus user manuals and technical support staff advise against pointing the projector apparently used in the base Digital Starlab (in5318) vertically. Use in this position is expected to dramatically reduce the life of the expensive projector lamp. Science First say they have a letter from InFocus stating this is not the case.

In our opinion, the lens quality of the base Digital Starlab is inferior to our own proprietary fisheye lenses. If you are considering buying a digital system, you really need to see all the options in use before making a decision.

The Digital Starlab Ares model has "outstanding 1600 pixel resolution: over 2.5M total pixels."

Apparently Science First does not know how to calculate the number of projected pixels. The correct figure is approximately 2.01 million projected pixels, which is exactly the same as our Digitarium Kappa model.

"[Digital] Starlab domes are made to our design."

According to Go-Dome, Science First is reselling a dome built with stolen Go-Dome plans. We were propositioned by what we believe to be the same unethical supplier in China, and from their photos the dome did appear identical in every detail. Do you really want to support an unethical manufacturer with your business? With such a supplier actual fire retardance compliance and warranty support become very significant concerns.

“No fumbling with cumbersome remotes...”

Our remote control fits in your hand or a pocket, so it is hard to see how this is physically cumbersome. It is backlit when you forget where a button is, but for the most part you will learn the carefully designed layout quickly. You will typically operate your system without even having to look at the remote, allowing you to focus on your students. You can teach while you're moving around the dome or even lying down on the floor.

As far as cumbersome in the sense of difficult or complex, compare one button press to turn on constellation artwork on our remote control versus what took five minutes of hunting through pulldown menus by a Starlab staff demonstrator. Imagine how long it would take a regular user to locate a less commonly used function. One of our design philosophies is that simple things should be simple.

For those who want a more traditional graphical interface, we offer a touchscreen iPad interface, which is less cumbersome than a laptop in every sense of the word.

The cumbersome interface here is in fact the laptop and software interface used with the Digital Starlab models.

“The only portable planetarium to immerse your students in both Earth Science and Astronomy” and “Why limit yourself to only one subject?”

This statement is absurd. Earth Science and Astronomy are interconnected. We can't think of any planetarium where you can not cover both topics.

In fact, digital systems are so powerful because you can show content on any subject.

Writing about the base Digital Starlab model: “...its state-of-the-art resolution...”

The base Digital Starlab has never had state-of-the-art resolution.

Our portable Digitarium systems predate the Digital Starlab base model and it has never matched our highest resolution (or sometimes even our lowest resolution) models. For example, our Digitarium Kappa system projects a 1600 pixel diameter circle, resulting in nearly twice as many pixels on the dome surface as the base Digital Starlab's 1200 pixel diameter circle (2,009,600 versus 1,130,400 pixels). The new Digital Starlab Ares model now matches our Digitarium Kappa in resolution.

“You won't find a better portable planetarium...” and “Our software package, Starry Night Small Dome, is world's [sic] better than the competition...”

It's rather presumptuous for a vendor to tell you what you need, and no surprise that it is exactly what they offer.

No one planetarium system or software meets everyone's needs or budget. It is neither accurate nor reasonable to call any one system or software package the best.

Nightshade actually has many substantial educational features that Starry Night Small Dome does not, such as the ability to show multiple sky cultures and a powerful scripting feature that allows users to create their own prerecorded segments or shows.

“There are more Starlabs® [sic] in use than any other portable planetarium, period.”

The main problem here is that Starlab analog systems are not true planetariums because they can not show accurate planetary, lunar, or solar motion.

Dictionary.com defines a planetarium as “an instrument for simulating the apparent motions of the sun, moon, and planets against a background of stars by projecting images of these bodies onto the inside of a domed ceiling.”

Analog Starlab systems can show the approximate location of a planet, but only with a system of manually placed mirrors and magnets. The user must know where to position the mirror ahead of time. To show the movement of a planet, the user would need to adjust the mirror by hand, which would be inaccurate and extremely awkward during a live show. Moon phasing and Sun positioning have to be accomplished in a similar manner, limited to a choice of preset positions. The systems can not phase other bodies or demonstrate precession or proper motion.

We have always assumed it was originally called a STARLAB exactly because it was not a true planetarium.

We believe Digitarium systems have outsold every other brand of digital planetarium system, including the Digital Starlab models (Science First has never published sales data). There are now over 500 Digitarium systems around the world.

(Referring to the base Digital Starlab) “...its superior brightness...”

None of their models have superior brightness.

There are several available portable digital systems that are substantially brighter than the base Digital Starlab (including three Digitarium models), and several others that match the base brightness of the Digital Starlab Ares.

“...custom fisheye lens (patent pending)...”

The Starlab lens patent application was denied in 2008 and they now appear to be using a third-party lens. We suspect their current lens choice may even be infringing on another patent.

“...superior contrast...”

The Digital Starlab does not have superior contrast.

Science First do not publish their contrast, but the nominal contrast ratio of the InFocus projector apparently used in the base Digital Starlab is only 2000:1. Compare that to the nominal contrast ratio of the Digitarium Delta 2 system projector, for example, which is 50,000:1.

“Unlike other systems, the user does not have to learn linux [sic].”

This is like pretending that the operating system in your DVD player matters. It doesn't, because it is completely hidden from you, just like in a Digitarium system.

Given that our interfaces are a handheld, backlit remote control or a web-based interface that works on any platform, it is simply false to imply that Digitarium users need to know anything about Linux. In fact, Digitarium users are liberated from having to know ANY operating system since it is all hidden – it just works!

“No other portable planetarium in the world is able to offer a software package with this level of power!”

Starry Night has many nice features, but Nightshade Legacy currently offers most of the same functionality and is open source (free to download, use, and modify with no expensive site licenses required). Nightshade also has features that Starry Night does not, like multiple sky cultures and a powerful scripting feature.

Nightshade NG, currently in development with full release expected in the second half of 2014, will greatly exceed Starry Night Small Dome's functionality in many ways.

Uniview, proprietary software from Sciss for fixed or portable domes already offers far more power than Starry Night in terms of features.

In other words, this statement is also simply false.

“...a version of Starry Night Small Dome powers the best fixed-dome planetariums in the world, which are the planetariums made by Spitz.”

Spitz uses Starry Night Dome in their SciDome systems. However, it is not based on Starry Night Small Dome. Quite the reverse, Starry Night Small Dome is actually a reduced functionality version of the one used by Spitz.

Again, the word “best” is purely subjective. There is no objective definition of what makes the best planetarium system, nor is there even a general consensus among planetarians which system is the best. People's needs vary.

“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.”

Well, actually Science First now have two models, the base Digital Starlab and the Digital Starlab Ares. Apparently they forgot.

The Digitarium Zeta Portable is most similar to the base Digital Starlab, but less expensive. And this is despite Digitalis offering five portable models!

We have many models to choose from because we know that one model (and one price) will not meet everyone's needs.

“...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.”

There are so many problems with these statements...

First, software scripts are not stored in the Digitarium remote control, just as programs you watch on your TV are not stored in the TV remote. You simply use the Digitarium remote to control the Digitarium computer.

The Starlab interface is very complex compared to our remote control, but we have made all common actions easy and complex actions possible. Compare one button press to turn on constellation artwork on our remote control versus what took five minutes of hunting through pulldown menus by a Starlab staff demonstrator. Imagine how long it would take to locate a less commonly used function... because Starry Night is not intuitive to use.

In addition to standard features, the Digitarium remote control provides a short cut to your 100 most frequently used software scripts. You can store far more than 100 scripts on the Digitarium control computer's 1 TB internal hard drive.

And the Digitarium remote control is not the only interface option. We also have the Universal Console, a web-based application for use with a desktop computer, laptop, or Apple iPad. The Universal Console offers more functionality than the remote control yet is still far more intuitive than the Starry Night interface.

No scripting is ever required to use a Digitarium system. If an audience member asks you a question and you want to display an image or video or run a different script to answer the question, you can easily do that on the fly. We know that it is far easier to do this with our interfaces than with the Digital Starlab models and their laptops.

From e-Planetarium:

What They Say


“Furthermore, in a mirror system, for the front-center field of view, you are using the BEST part of the mirror (the flat part), but the WORST part of the fisheye (the edge).”

If you assume, as e-Planetarium want you to, that higher resolution is always better, then this reasoning is backwards: The mirror puts the lowest resolution part of the picture (i.e., the part with the fewest pixels) in front of the audience. The highest resolution is in fact next to the mirror, just where the audience is not supposed to be looking.

Unlike a spherical mirror system, a fisheye lens can focus the entire image everywhere on the dome at the same time and pixels are evenly distributed. While the lower quality fisheye systems sold by E-planetarium may have poor projection quality at the edge of the projection, this is not the case with our proprietary Digitalis fisheye lenses.

“Projector mated to lens.. must send back to manufacturer for service, with extended "down" time (note - this is true for competing fisheye systems but NOT for our projectors from Elumenati. With the new Elumenati clip-on systems you can easily move the lens to a new projector if needed)”

Only our very first model, circa 2003, had a lens that was not designed to be user removable. With all our later systems you can change out projectors or lenses as needed. So this statement is false and has been for years.

It should be noted that as a rule clip-on adapter type lenses have poorer projection quality than prime lenses that mate directly into the projector. That extra flexibility comes with a trade-off.

“No easy upgrade as projectors improve - can't just put a fisheye into any projector without modification.”

Most of our Digitarium sytems were designed for projector platforms from the leaders in the field, Barco and Panasonic. Using a platform approach allows our lenses to fit multiple projectors from these manufacturers with varying resolutions, brightnesses, and costs. Even as new models are released, our lenses continue to work.

That does not always mean an upgrade is as simple as buying another projector, but many times it is. We will help facilitate upgrades through trade in allowances and individualized recommendations.

It should be noted that many projectors are not compatible with spherical mirrors either. Certain lens properties have to be met in order for a projector to work with one.

“Mirrors are much cheaper than fisheyes to replace if damaged.”

Yes, but the odds of damaging a lens pales in comparison to the odds of damaging a first-surface mirror. Lenses can be repaired, while mirrors generally can not be. Lenses are easy to clean, while mirrors are difficult to clean without damaging the surface. You don't have to replace the lens if a child touches it, and you don't have to teach with a face mask on for fear of getting saliva on the lens (as is suggested in the Go-Dome mirror care instructions: http://www.go-dome.com/care-and-maintanance/go-vex%E2%84%A2-mirror-care/ ).

We have over 400 Digitarium systems in use around the world, and the only significant lens damage we have seen was when a customer dropped their lens onto a hard floor. This was fixed with a repair, however, rather than a complete replacement and it is very easy to avoid this kind of damage.

Paul Bourke, the creator of spherical mirror dome projection, stated in a post to the Small Planetarium Yahoo Group, “You have no idea how much time and money I have spent on investigating mirror technology, I thought the software would be the weak link but it turned out to be the mirror.”

“Projection system in back of dome... leaves the best seats in the house, the center, for customers (15-20% more seating for a given size dome)”

A Digitarium system takes up about one seat. The footprint of the Zeta, Gamma, Epsilon, and Kappa systems is in fact substantially smaller than that of the e-Planetarium spherical mirror system, while the Delta 2 takes up about the same amount of space as the spherical mirror system.

It is simply wrong to say that putting the system in the back of the dome magically creates more seats. What actually affects the number of seats in a portable dome (along with the age and size of the audience members, of course) is the type of content being shown. With a traditional live planetarium lesson, you can seat the audience in concentric circles since you are pointing out objects all over the sky.

With a movie, the content is nearly always unidirectional—the audience must all face the same direction in order to see the movie. This means that you do not want to seat anyone very close to the “front” of the dome when you are playing a movie—unless you want people to leave the dome with sore necks.

Content unidirectionality drastically reduces the number of seats, and unidirectional movie content is just what e-Planetarium promotes.

In reality, we estimate seating to be about 30-50% lower in a unidirectional show than in a typical live planetarium show in order for everyone to be comfortable and have a good view.

"A fisheye projector can ONLY show fisheye content!"

“If you want to show NON-fisheye content (e.g. a regular movie) it's trivial to do.. just slide the secondary mirror in or remove it.”

The first statement is completely ridiculous. Our systems have been able to show non-fisheye content since they were introduced in 2003! It is hard to believe that e-Planetarium fisheye systems apparently can not do this.

It is in fact easier to show perspective (rectangular) content with Digitarium systems because our software natively corrects for dome distortion, no matter where you want to play the video on the dome. The e-Planetarium multimedia player does not correct for distortion, and in fact you are stuck with the video in one location only on their mirror systems. Digitarium users can move, resize, and even mirror a video to two sides of the dome for better visibility.

E-Planetarium users also have to quit Stellarium to even access media. This prevents an educator from doing such a simple thing as showing a piece of supplemental media and then returning to where he or she left off in the sky. Digitarium systems are designed for users to easily integrate media directly into their lessons without this unprofessional hindrance.

With our Universal Console interface media can very easily be shown against the simulated sky and manipulated in real time.

"We have found that of the 70,000 students who learned from the Discovery Dome in Houston last year, 90% of the teachers chose educational videos aligned with their teaching objectives rather than a live star show."

This is the kind of meaningless statistic that any science educator should recognize.

Our own Pacific Planetarium offers only live interactive planetarium shows, so not surprisingly 100% of our teacher requests have been for live shows.

Conversely, E-Planetarium heavily markets their fulldome video shows. Looking at their current outreach offerings (July, 2012), they offer 30 programs, with only 3 consisting of live lessons. Assuming their offerings were the same in the year (unspecified) their data is from, that would mean there is no difference between their statistic and what one would expect if all shows were selected at random!

We believe it is self evident that live lessons tailored to individual audiences provide the most effective and rewarding educational experience. A video is the same every time and can not be customized for the specific needs of a given group, nor address questions as they come up during a show. However, there are very few scientific studies of the relative effectiveness of the two approaches. More studies are needed and we would be happy to assist anyone in this endeavor.