Birth of a Planetarium Exhibit - Technology

This is part three of an ongoing series about the overhaul of the Fiske Planetarium .  For the other parts of the series, click here.

Content is king when developing a museum exhibit, but no amount of quality material  will save you if the exhibit isn't engaging to your audience.  A good exhibit is eye-catching, easy to read, and dynamic.  It also helps if it is durable and easy to maintain.

There are many ways to fulfill these requirements, but at Fiske we chose to go big.  Since this is a digital exhibit, we want as large a canvas as possible to work with. Large is also engaging (whose eye wouldn't get caught by an enormous picture of the Sun?) and easy to read.  

Of course, underlying any discussion of exhibit construction is cost.  Every budget is finite, and, if you work a a small museum, probably pretty constrained.  You want the best bang for your buck, and that's not always easy to figure out.  In this exhibit, for example, we needed to purchase three flat screen televisions.  Prices  for this could range from $1,350 to $24,000 for consumer models, and several times more for professional displays.  While I don't want to disclose our specific budget, I will say that it was definitely less than $24,000!  So how did we go about selecting screens?  It came down to simple cost analysis.

 Television prices increase more quickly as the screens get bigger.  Beyond 70 inches, they become a pretty bad deal!

Television prices increase more quickly as the screens get bigger.  Beyond 70 inches, they become a pretty bad deal!

Take a look at the chart to the left.  It shows the cost of a single display for screens ranging from 40 to 90 inches.   We can use this to get an idea of how efficient we're being with our money.  Going from 40-inch to 50-inch displays would net us about 56% more screen area for about 56% more money.  Seems pretty pretty reasonable!  On the other hand, going from 80-inch to 90-inch screens nets only 26% more area for 100% more money.  That's not such a good deal.  In the end, we decided that 70-inch displays were the sweet spot of price, size, and future-proofing right now.

Add in a few wall mounting brackets and we've been able to put together roughly a 15-foot by 3-foot display area for relatively little money.  This is give us plenty of space to display the sort of arresting visuals that people love to see in space imagery.