The ASTROLab hosts thousands of visitors every year in its 95-seat auditorium for informative presentations about topics including cosmology, space exploration, light pollution, and more. While portions of the sessions are pre-scripted and delivered linearly, what sets the ASTROLab apart from other museums and astronomy activity centers are its human interaction and audience participation. A live, on-stage presenter is teamed with an operator who controls multiple computers and AV components to trigger supporting images and video – including visuals from telescopes and probes around the solar system — in response to visitor questions.
Two years ago, the ASTROLab began a project to upgrade its production and presentation capabilities to 4K. To realize its vision of delivering a high-impact visual experience, the ASTROLab required a software solution that would allow it to quickly recall video and images from its large collection of media files and seamlessly present them on the theater’s 27-foot by 18-foot screen.
“The solution we had before was not up to the task of showing all of this multimedia at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second the way we wanted,” explained Guillaume Poulin, a science communicator and technician at the ASTROLab who helped design the theater’s new workflow. “We needed software that let us categorize our content library, then during presentations let us quickly select a media file for immediate display with super-smooth 4K playback and transitions.”
Poulin’s research led him to Renewed Vision’s flagship software. “ProPresenter is the only software we found that could do what we wanted in full frame rate 4K,” he said. “It lets us go into our very large library, select the appropriate media related to attendees’ questions, and put it on-screen quickly and smoothly. And it handles cross-fades between videos and images beautifully.”
The ASTROLab runs ProPresenter on a Mac Mini computer with a Blackmagic eGPU graphics accelerator. The system’s HDMI output is run through a Teranex Mini converter that transforms the signal to 12G-SDI for routing with a 40×40 Blackmagic Design Smart Videohub 12G. Dante Virtual Soundcard software brings eight-channel uncompressed audio from ProPresenter onto the theater’s audio-over-IP network, where it is picked up by a Biamp sound processor. The ASTROLab’s ProPresenter-powered 4K playback has impressed both Poulin and his audience.
“Visitors are often blown away by being able to immediately see visual resources for the answers to their questions,” he said. “For example, they might ask about a particular black hole or nebula, and within seconds there’s a corresponding image on the screen – sometimes even before they finish asking the question.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary closure of the ASTROLab, Poulin used ProPresenter to conduct streamed presentations from home. He received questions from the public via Facebook Live, and used ProPresenter to show corresponding media much as he would have in the theater. The ASTROLab facility has subsequently re-opened to the public with reduced attendee capacity, and Poulin plans to add a second instance of ProPresenter in a smaller theater at the nearby Mount Megantic Popular Observatory when it too re-opens.
Overall, the theater’s 4K upgrade has significantly increased the ASTROLab’s presentation quality and made its educational experiences more engaging.
“Having very gorgeous images helps instill visitors with a deeper appreciation of astronomy,” said Poulin. “Being able to display very high-resolution visuals, such as those from the Hubble Space Telescope, is very powerful. It’s amazing the impact that can have on our visitors, and ProPresenter is an important part of that.”