Planetarium gets new digital projection system

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A new digital projection system at Jackson’s Russell C. Davis Planetarium brings full dome digital cinema to the state’s largest screen and represents a stellar upgrade for the 1978 facility.

The Konica Minolta Super Mediaglobe II, about the size of a steamer trunk, fits handily inside the bulls-eye of its predecessor’s target-like footprint on the theater floor lift.

It’s not IMAX, which uses a flat screen. This is full dome cinema, covering a screen that’s 60 feet wide and 45 feet tall and immersing the viewer in image. Previously, Mega 8/70 system large-format films projected on the dome only covered about half of it. This covers every square inch.

“So when the little fish comes swimming by you, it’s going to swim right on past you, right around the back,” planetarium manager John Williams said. “When we land on Mars, you’re not going to see just a view in front of you. You’re going to see what’s back behind you.”

The projector has a smaller profile with a bigger punch. The image is 4,096 by 2,400 pixels, 4K resolution - about four times what most folks think of as high definition, Williams said. “That’s what the impressive part is.”

The system costs around $400,000 and is funded by a gift from the late Martha Snavely and the planetarium’s yearly endowment from the Marie Hoerner Foundation.

The recent installation follows years of research dating to 2006 for the best, most efficient upgrade that’ll last. This single lens projector covers the whole dome.

Philip Groce, president of Helping Planetariums Succeed, was on hand to help supervise the installation of the new digital system and train staff.

The planetarium’s permanent new system is still being manufactured. This is a temporary demonstration model, installed now to take advantage of the downtown activity and international visitors in town for the two-week USA International Ballet Competition. This gives them another downtown Jackson option in-between the dance performances.

Previously, the planetarium just projected the stars and filled in with video, slides and special effects from other projectors, Groce said. Now, everything comes from a single projector. “And because it’s digital, anything you can render on a computer, you can project,” taking viewers underwater, down volcanoes, into deep space or onto a planet’s surface.

“It’s a much more capable system that can teach much more than astronomy,” Groce said.

Viewers will be surrounded and immersed inside an image.

“It’ll have a very 3D effect. You’ll see that but you won’t need glasses.”

Showing first will be two movies under consideration for purchase - the animated underwater feature “Kaluoka’hina” for kids and the computer-animated “Dawn of the Space Age,” promising an “out-of-this-world’ rocket blast into the atmosphere.

Williams, who started at the planetarium as a show presenter, recalled, “Everything we did was based on here on Earth, looking at the sky.

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