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Software Review - Redshift 6 Premium Edition - USM/Maris/Focus 

 

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The powerful planetarium packages like Redshift are now mature, effective software, and with version 6 premium edition, Redshift is challenging the best in the field.

At the heart of this package is the extremely powerful planetarium engine, but it's worth taking a moment to explore some of its other features that give it that "premium" label. There's a flight mode that allows you to navigate around the planets and stars using a joystick, neat integration with Google maps to zoom in to detail on the Earth (if you are online), a macro recorder to set up guided tours along with music and commentary, built-in videos and photo galleries, and handy eclipse maps to track down those elusive solar eclipses. There's also a great Sky Diary feature than tells you what is happening when.

But the essential core of the package is the planetarium, which is powerful and effective. You can set the time from 4173 BC to 9999 AD and take a viewpoint anywhere in the solar system. 20 million stars and 1 million deep space objects are plotted out for you, along with 125,000 asteroids and 1,800 comets. There's also information on a good range of artificial satellites, and additional object information can be downloaded as and when. The view can be altered every which way, including adding stick figures and elegant drawings to constellations, and zooming in to very effective surface detail on planets and the moon. New with this version, and a boon for the modern astronomer, is telescope control for most popular robotic telescopes including Orion SkyQuest Intelliscope, Meade LX200 and Autostar, Celestron Nexstar series and all ASCOM compliant telescopes. This works both ways, synchronizing Redshift with what you see through the telescope, and enabling Redshift to tell the telescope to find a particular object. Anyone who has spent hours trying to pin down a specific galaxy will be delighted with this facility (if they have an appropriately hi-tech telescope).

The driving forces behind Redshift 6's success are both flexibility - there's a huge amount of control - and value for money. It is without doubt one of the best pieces of planetarium software, and richly deserves its five stars. Even so, it's not perfect. The user interface is quite crowded, and can be daunting to the beginner - and that flexibility can sometimes get in the way of usability. The interface isn't all bad by any means, and has improved, but still could be better.

Inevitably Redshift is going to be compared with Starry Night. Each has benefits. Up to now (with for instance Redshift 5.1), this package has been priced at a real bargain level. Now its pricing puts Redshift 6 between Starry Night's Enthusiast and Pro versions.  Redshift 6 certainly beats the Enthusiast version on features, though it is noticeably more expensive. The top of the range Starry Night, Starry Night Pro Plus has more to offer, but the difficult decision is between Redshift and Starry Night Pro. Personally I marginally prefer the interface of Starry Night, and it does have a more extensive date range, so it's certainly better to go for if you want to do extreme date ranges for historical research or spanning into the future. But for ordinary use, I'd say Redshift now has the edge on Pro (and Redshift is a bargain at 29.99), though it's still beaten by Starry Night Pro Plus

Sadly, this version doesn't appear to be available in the US. Version 5 is, for an excellent cheap package, but to get this level of sophistication with telescope control you will have to go for Starry Night Pro or Starry Night Pro Plus.

Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007