31 March 2014

Science Museum of Virginia's 8K fulldome theater upgrade gets good press

Inside the 8K dome at SMV - E&S Digistar 5 system
There's a new 8K system in the fulldome theater universe. It was unveiled officially to the public in Richmond at the Science Museum of Virginia in March. While there are now hundreds of digital dome video ("fulldome") systems around the world in planetariums, science centers and entertainment venues, very few of them (at this writing, fewer than 10) are 8K.

Very few cinema systems of any kind are 8K, in fact. This leading edge digital cinema technology has not yet been widely seen even among the industry, but in our observation, those who witness 8K tend to agree that it sets a new benchmark for visualization, and that it may even meet the very exacting standards of giant-screen film exhibitors planning digital conversions.

Evans & Sutherland, a leading provider of fulldome systems (background: E&S was one of the breakthrough pioneers in the heyday of computer graphics), boasts two recent 8K installations on two continents: in the US, at the Science Museum of Virgina (Richmond), and in Switzerland, at the Museum of Transport (Lucerne). (And if you're still wondering what the heck "8K" means in this context, check out this background article from E&S.)

One of the things a digital theater brings is versatility. For a planetarium, going digital means the ability to take audiences through data sets using real-time image generation, and to screen fulldome shows, which include astronomy and earth science titles created specifically for the 360-degree hemispherical fulldome display, as well as fulldome conversions of documentaries such as the two that SMV is currently featuring: Wildest Weather in the Solar System (produced by National Geographic), and Great White Shark (produced by Giant Screen Films).

In addition to this kind of traditional educational programming, digital systems allow planetariums and other dome theater operators to explore alternative content options such as concerts, opera simulcasts, live performance and multimedia shows - and to collaborate with local arts organizations for other creative and theatrical uses of the space.

In Richmond, the SMV upgrade has caught the attention of the press and enthusiasm of the community, as shown in this array of recent articles, below. -- J.R.

'The domed screen is part of the Science Museum’s $60 million fundraising campaign, which is aimed at rebranding the state institution as the “marketing agency for science.” More than half of that money — $36 million from public and private sources — is already in hand'... Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Science Museum of VA pulls wraps off 'The Dome,'" Louis Llovio, March 14, 2014

'You sit in comfortable rocking chairs with cup holders, surrounded above by a quarter acre of screen — the Old Dominion's largest — comprised of 480 fitted aluminum panels. The new, five-unit Christie projection system can throw out 29 million pixels' ... Richmond Magazine, "The New Hotness: The Dome takes The Hat over the Moon," Harry Kollatz Jr., March 14, 2014

'The Science Museum of Virginia invited members of the media and friends to an early morning preview on March 14 and the capabilities of the new Dome stunned and wowed us all...over and over.' ... Richmond.com, "Dome at Science Museum of Virginia outta this world," Phil Riggan, March 19, 2014