A home planetarium is primarily meant for entertainment nowadays more than anything else, thanks to the availability of high-quality and often free software applications more or less supplanting the usefulness of planetariums as serious astronomical planning tools. However, star projectors and home planetariums are fun for even the experienced astronomer on a cloudy night, and entertaining to newcomers of all ages – making great gifts for adults and children of all ages. Additionally, a star projector or home planetarium is a great night light and/or sleep aid, especially for kids.
Here is our top 3 picks for best star projectors and top rated home planetariums.
1. Sega Homestar Classic - Best Choice
The Homestar Classic is made by Sega – yes, oddly enough, the Sonic the Hedgehog folks. The Homestar comes with interchangeable sky disks – one shows the northern sky with no constellations marked, and the other shows constellation and asterism lines. The disks each contain 60,000 stars in all – so the limit is around 8th magnitude, the dimmest you could possibly see with the naked eye at a dark sky site on a very good night. Sega sells official aftermarket disks showing the Earth and Moon, the Andromeda Galaxy – tinted blue to represent star formation or something like that -, and of course the southern sky. You can also buy a variety of third-party disks, most of which are laughably unrealistic.
The Homestar Classic’s projection size is a massive circle 2.7 meters (106 inches) across, with a 1.5-2.3 m/50-90 inch adjustable focus range. It sits on a table, and can be pivoted up and down on its simple base.
The Homestar Classic plugs into a wall, and also has adapters for different electrical outlet types so you can bring it with you when you travel, and a timer function so it can automatically shut off once you fall asleep. Lastly, the Homestar has a toggleable meteor/”shooting star” function that will produce random meteors every once in a while.
Many professional and amateur astronomers love the Homestar, and for good reason – the HomeStar is the highest-quality home planetarium available on the market, and it’s affordable too.
2. Bresser Junior AstroPlanetarium Deluxe
The Bresser Junior AstroPlanetarium Deluxe offers some advantages over the Sega Homestar Classic, but also some disadvantages.
For starters, the AstroPlanetarium Deluxe runs on AA batteries. This is nice if you don’t want to deal with plugging it into a wall or if you’re using it somewhere where there is no power (e.g. camping) but of course it will consume the batteries fairly quickly, which becomes costly and inconvenient.
The AstroPlanetarium Deluxe has a precise date/time setting so you can view the sky as it would be at a particular date and time of night. It also offers a greater maximum projection distance than the Homestar Classic (3 meters vs 2.3 meters). The automatic shutdown timer also has a longer maximum setting – 120 minutes – compared to the Homestar Classic’s 60 minutes. Like the Sega Homestar Classic, the AstroPlanetarium Deluxe also has a built-in, toggleable meteor shower/shooting star function to spice things up occasionally.
The AstroPlanetarium Deluxe is shaped like a ball that sits in a dish, allowing it to be pivoted and rotated to any position you’d like.
However, the AstroPlanetarium Deluxe’s discs are nowhere near as sophisticated as the Sega Homestar’s. The AstroPlanetarium Deluxe offers a mere 8,000 stars, putting its limit at around 6th magnitude, and the overall aesthetic of the stars and constellations/labels is much cruder. You could solve this by buying aftermarket disks, but that would be expensive.
Lastly, for Non-European buyers the AstroPlanetarium Deluxe has to be imported, which increases shipping cost and time, and it is questionable whether Bresser’s customer support can or will help you with the AstroPlanetarium Deluxe if you live in North America. It’s up to you to decide whether the increased functions and ability to run on batteries is worth the simpler and less sophisticated included discs as well as the increased cost and shipping time.
3. Uncle Milton 3D Star Theater - Lowest Price
The 3D Star Theater is marketed as a children’s toy – it has a small projection diameter (the exact size is not provided but it doesn’t look over 3 feet), and the included disks are relatively simple. However, it can project nice constellation close-ups with pretty artwork, as well as (unrealistic) renderings of popular sky objects which makes it one of the cheap and good planetariums available.
It comes with a “3D” feature as the name implies and of course 3D glasses, neither of which seem to actually work. The 3D Star Theater uses the same ball-and-socket design as the Bresser Junior AstroPlanetarium Deluxe, allowing it to be pivoted and rotated in any direction.
While the small projection size and the lack of a wide star field disk included makes the Uncle Milton 3D Star Theater resemble a View-Master toy more than a real planetarium, it still has a certain charm to it that makes it highly enjoyable, and I would not hesitate buying one – especially for the extremely low price it’s offered at. There are certainly better planetariums and star projectors than the lowly 3D Star Theater out there, but for less than the price of a nice dinner it’s certainly a bargain. The only downside is that it seems to guzzle battery power – it runs on 4 AA batteries, which it will consume in a couple hours of runtime.