The Melbourne Planetarium replaced The H V McKay Planetarium which operated at the old Museum in Swanston Street from 1965 until 1997. There are several differences between the Melbourne Planetarium and the old H V McKay Planetarium.
- The H V McKay Planetarium had a 10m dome. The Melbourne Planetarium has a 16m dome which gives twice the surface area of the old one.
- The Melbourne Planetarium has a perforated aluminium dome. The H V McKay Planetarium's dome was made of solid fibreglass. This trapped the sound and lead to strange noise effects. Even a whisper could be heard quite clearly by a person located on the opposite side of the theatre.
- Seats in the HV McKay Planetarium were arranged 'in the round'. The Melbourne Planetarium is a unidirectional theatre with all seats pointed to the front to take advantage of the video projection systems within the dome.
- The H V McKay Planetarium did not have video, or full-dome slide capabilities.
- The H V McKay Planetarium had an optical star projector, the GOTO model M-1. When the Melbourne Planetarium opened at Scienceworks in 1999 it featured a mixture of mechnical and digital projection systems, including the first digital star projector in the Southern Hemisphere, the Digistar II. In 2005, the Melbourne Planetarium underwent a major equipment upgrade to install a fully digital video projection system, DigitalSky.
The original GOTO optical star projector from the H. V. McKay Planetarium is on display in the foyer of the Melbourne Planetarium. It is a sophisticated piece of optical equipment and impressive to look at. At each end of the optical projector a lamp shone through 15 lenses. Attached to each lens was a shell on which the position of the stars had been etched. Light streamed out through the shells to create very crisp star images.
The first optical star projector was developed in 1923. As it was then, planetariums today are still pushing the boundaries of modern technology. However, they now utilise sophisticated computer systems, high definition video projection and top quality sound recordings to provide a fully immersive experience. No longer limited to just representing the night sky, planetariums are places to explore all aspects of astronomy, from the search for life within our universe to the hunt for supermassive black holes.