Great comments on this topic from all. Here's a few additional thoughts on
selecting a fulldome system:
1) You can either become an expert in all aspects of fulldome, or bring in
an independent consultant who has already gone to this trouble. There are
several excellent fulldome consulting firms out there for projects both big
and small (including Visual Bandwidth) who will assist with everything from
early project definition phase to theater design, writing an RFP, evaluating
competitive bids, vendor watchdog during project execution and oversight of
facory acceptance. An independent consultant can manage and drastically
lower project risk and ensure that you execute your project with eyes wide
open and minimal suprises.
2) In evaluating bids for fulldome systems, we use a rating system
(developed with Chabot Space & Science Center) that includes items such as
Wow Factor (brightness/resolution/contrast), Ease of Use for Operator, Ease
of Use for Programmer, Maintenance Cost (Expendables, Upgrades, License fees
and Labor), and System Cost. Each item is weighted in importance according
to the institution's specific priorities. Of course, the technical
challenge is to evaluate the many system specifications and characteristics
in order to accurately rate these variables on an apples-to-apples basis.
3) Speak to current owners and ask them a lot of questions about what it is
like to "live with" the various systems that are out there. This will
reveal hidden factors such as non-uniform lamp aging, recurrent failures,
poor vendor service response times, system quirks, etc. You may be able to
insist on improvements to the system to avoid these problems. At the very
least you will avoid suprises.
4) Please don't forget to factor the cost of quality fulldome programs into
your 5-year budget. This is perhaps the #1 overlooked item. Often shows
can be purchased up-front with the system and rolled into software costs.
5) There are continually new developments in fulldome systems. If you are
going for something new it is important to have a feel for technical risks
and how well supported a given technology will be in years to come. An
independent fulldome engineering consultant can especially help here. There
is nothing wrong with being a pioneer and pushing the technical edge
provided you do so with eyes wide open. There would not be a fulldome field
if it were not for a handful of pioneering institutions willing to be an R&D
testbed, at least temporarily...
Visual Bandwidth, Inc.
ed @ visualbandwidth.com