The Sphere: Ushering in the Future of Live Music and Entertainment
In the realm of live music and entertainment, a groundbreaking revolution is on the horizon. A spectacular architectural marvel known as "The Sphere" at the Venetian Resort is set to redefine the concert-going experience. With its immense size and innovative design, this futuristic venue promises to transport audiences into a realm of unparalleled audiovisual immersion and take live performances to new heights. Let's take a look at the technology involved.
There are all kinds of superlatives involved. The Sphere at the Venetian is 516 feet in diameter and 366 feet tall (the well-known pyramid at the Luxor Hotel & Casino is the third largest in the world and 316 feet tall). It is located in Paradise, Nevada near the Venetian Hotel. With a final expected cost of $2.3 billion, it is the most expensive entertainment venue in Las Vegas history, beating out the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium. The venue is billed as the largest spherical structure on the planet and is built to comfortably hold 18,600 spectators surrounded by a completely immersive 16K by 16K resolution LED screen that covers the ceiling and walls. The structure harnesses a groundbreaking acoustic system that won a patent and redefines the way sound is transmitted indoors.
A Visionary Creation
The origins of the idea can be traced back to a visionary moment in 2015 when James Dolan, CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment Company, set out to "reinvent live entertainment." Fueled by a desire to overcome the limitations of traditional concert venues, Dolan embarked on a journey to create a one-of-a-kind structure that would push the boundaries of technology and artistic expression. It is scheduled to open to the public in September of this year. It was scheduled to open in 2021 but completion was suspended due to supply chain shortages during the pandemic. The project is managed by MSG and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
On the Fourth of July its 'exosphere,' the 580,000 square foot LED skin sent a greeting to the Las Vegas skyline during the July 4th celebration by becoming fully illuminated. The outside of the Sphere is the largest LED screen in the world. As a means to defray some of the construction costs, the exosphere will probably display ads when it turns on 24/7/365 in late September.
Just the exterior of the structure is perhaps the most eye-catching billboard in the world with a great view from the tallest Ferris Wheel in the United States. The overarching structure to support the audio system weighs 730 tons and enables sound waves to be directionally beamed to specific sections of the auditorium.
In addition to the basketball, eyeball, and globe, they showed off a jack-o-lantern and snow globe to demonstrate the fun and festivity this attraction will bring to the city.
The Birth of an Extraordinary Concept
Drawing inspiration from his boundless imagination, Dolan envisioned an enormous geometric structure that would serve as a monumental platform for arena-size concerts. Thus, the concept was conceived—a spherical IMAX theater on a monumental scale. It contains an astounding 170,000 speakers and a super high-definition view with a resolution 100 times better than the best consumer television. The area of screen is 160,000 square feet, larger than three football fields and that's just the inside.
Like IMAX, the Sphere has a resolution that can only be realized by using a special camera for filming. The first filmed Sphere-only movie is said to be in the works by Darren Aronofsky, a well-known Hollywood name.
According to Dibble, Dolan envisioned a massive geometric structure, resembling an oversized IMAX theater. The primary objective was to accommodate large-scale concerts, while also serving as a venue for movie screenings and various events. Dibble admits that they faced a significant challenge at the beginning since they had no clear plan of action. With only Dolan and himself involved, they lacked the necessary resources and personnel to bring the vision to life. With an unwavering determination to bring this audacious vision to life, Dolan assembled a team of experts and investors, and seven years later after much criticism for spiraling costs, their work is nearing completion.
Unleashing the Power of Immersive Technology
At the heart of The Sphere lies a mission to create a truly immersive experience that transcends the boundaries of reality. By harnessing the power of cutting-edge audio and visual technologies, The Sphere aims to transport audiences into breathtaking realms, blending the virtual and the physical seamlessly. This revolutionary venue offers a unique fusion of live performances, state-of-the-art audio systems, and mind-boggling visual effects, enabling artists to craft unforgettable moments for their fans.
The idea of experiencing virtual reality without cumbersome headgear, which also hinders the communal aspect of attending an event with other people, is what really got the Sphere rolling. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have VR experiences without those damn goggles?’ That’s what the Sphere is,” says Dibble.
Breaking Free from Traditional Constraints
One of the key distinguishing features of The Sphere Las Vegas is its ability to deliver immersive experiences without the need for cumbersome VR goggles. Unlike traditional virtual reality setups, The Sphere offers a hassle-free environment that encourages communal interaction and eliminates barriers between fans. By seamlessly integrating advanced audio and video systems, The Sphere ensures that every attendee is fully immersed in the spectacle, creating a sense of awe and wonder that goes beyond conventional concert experiences.
The Sphere Sets a New Standard in Acoustic Engineering
While skeptics initially dismissed the idea of achieving exceptional audio quality within a large spherical structure, the team behind the Sphere proved them wrong. Collaborating with audio experts from Holoplot, renowned for their expertise in wave-field synthesis, The Sphere successfully overcame the acoustic challenges inherent in such a unique venue. Through meticulous engineering and innovation, the center was designed to deliver concert-grade sound that envelops the audience, creating an unparalleled auditory experience.
At first, they were told the acoustics in a sphere were untenable but the new wave field technology enables them to precisely project sound waves to any desired location within the venue. This capability allows for immersive experiences where one section of the audience can hear a movie in Spanish while another side hears it in English, completely isolated from each other without any sound leakage. It's akin to wearing headphones, ensuring a tailored audio experience. Movies could be shown at the same time in multiple languages on the same screen to a linguistically diverse audience (as is commonly found in Vegas).
Additionally, the extended reality technology can isolate specific instruments, allowing for distinct acoustics in one area and percussion in another, altering and enhancing the overall audio quality.
Unveiling a Visual Extravaganza
In addition to its remarkable audio capabilities, The Sphere boasts the highest-resolution LED screen on Earth, enveloping the audience in mesmerizing visuals. With the ability to project both real and imaginary landscapes of unparalleled scale and image resolution, this technological marvel takes visual immersion to extraordinary levels. It serves as a captivating canvas for artists to unleash their creativity, transforming their performances into breathtaking works of art that reverberate through the hearts of their fans.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have VR experiences without those damn goggles?’ That’s what the Sphere is,” says Dibble.
The capacity of the venue is 17,600, and a significant portion of the seating, approximately 10,000 chairs, are specially designed with built-in haptics and variable amplitudes. Haptic feedback is what some phone apps do to simulate activity like vibrations in video games. Each seat functions as a low-frequency speaker, enhancing the sensory experience for the audience. Additionally, the venue offers the option to create immersive atmospheric effects by releasing cold air, hot air, wind, and even aromas directly toward fans. A notable feature is the noise-dampening system employed in the air-delivery system, which caught the attention of NASA.
In fact, the makers of the venue gave the space agency approval to use it: After NASA expressed interest in adapting this technology for the space program, Dibble obliged, "Knock yourself out."
The Sphere to Debut U2 with an Achtung Baby Residency
As pioneers in pushing the boundaries of live music, U2 is poised to grace The Sphere with their monumental Achtung Baby residency. The Irish rockers, known for their penchant for innovation and grandeur, will mesmerize audiences with a series of unforgettable shows dedicated to their iconic 1991 album. Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton will grace the stage, while drummer Larry Mullen Jr. takes time to recuperate from a recent surgery, with talented drummer Bram van den Berg filling in his stead. The owners originally envisioned conferences, video game competitions, movie premieres, and movie events, but boxing and UFC pay per event.
The U2 guitarist says "The extensive time and resources invested in creating visually stunning set pieces have made it challenging for us to maintain the same level of spontaneity and quick improvisation as in our previous tours," explains the Edge. "However, we remain committed to incorporating sections of the show that allow for spontaneity, which will vary from night to night." Tickets are on sale starting at $499.
U2 has already committed to performing 25 shows from September 29 to December 16, with a possibility of adding a few more. However, the Edge indicates that it is unlikely for the schedule to extend into 2024. Subsequently, a new headliner will take over the stage. While U2 is secured to christen the Sphere, not every artist is eager to have their musical act outdone by a visual display and some are rejecting offers to perform according to Rolling Stone. For not a large venue, major stars could easily pack the house for months or years.
The Sphere: The Future of Live Entertainment?
The arrival of The Sphere signifies a new era in live music and entertainment. Its avant-garde design, immersive technology, and commitment to pushing boundaries will undoubtedly captivate audiences and redefine the concert experience. As fans eagerly anticipate the grand opening in late September, The Sphere stands as a testament to the relentless pursuit of innovation and it will be center of attention for visitors and artists alike.
This Sphere Is Not the Only One Planned
It may not be a 0.5 scale model of the Eiffel Tower, Bellagio fountains, or the World's brightest beam of light, but it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to re-invent live entertainment and despite the challenges and costs, it has more than a decent chance at pulling it off.
A similar structure has been proposed in Stratford, East London. The MSG Sphere London is still awaiting approval. Construction is hoped to begin near the city’s Olympic Park.