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October 17, 2023

Sphere Opens with U2 and 247 Million Pixels

One of the key application areas for very high resolution video content is in locations that are trying to develop very immersive location-based entertainment. We reported a little while ago on the Outernet facility in London, but now the Sphere in Las Vegas has now opened for business. The huge venue has cost more than $2 billion and is a technical tour-de-force. It is covered on the outside by LEDs and internally uses a 19,000 x 13,500 resolution (almost seven times more dots than 8K!) immersive display system (over more than three acres – over 12,000 m2) on the inside of its 240′ (73m) high dome. It recently opened with a concert residency by the Irish rock band, U2.

Initial feedback from those that have attended the concerts (17,600 is the seating capacity) has been very positive and it seems that it is changing a number of aspects of how a performance works. It seems thatthe immersion of the display system means a number of changes in the way that performers interact with the audience.

Is the Band the Center of Attention?

U2 had worked for a year and a half with a number of visual artists to develop the content for their show and there is a huge amount of detail in some of the displays which are also very dynamic (the videos include a number of ‘easter eggs’ for the eagle-eyed). This really changes the way that the band has to work. In a traditional concert venue, all the attention automatically falls on the stage and on the performers, but with such an immersive environment, the band has to really work to keep the attention of the audience. That’s new.

Spot the band at the bottom of this capture from a YT video of a song from U2

Also new is a change in where the audience might want to sit. Traditionally, the nearer you are to the stage as an audience member, the more involved you feel with those on stage (hence higher prices for closer seats). However, when you have such an immersive experience available, that can change. Now, those with the widest view may have the best experience and in Las Vegas, some those in the lower levels complained that they didn’t get the full view. Those on the upper level of the seating do have the fullest view of the display in the Sphere and in Las Vegas there has been, already, a level of learning about where to sit for the best experience.

Regular Show

The U2 shows at the end of September were limited in number and there is now a regular show, several times a day. Looking at reviews shows a very mixed reaction, although most find the visuals appealling (if not the audience management and the cost of items including drinks and parking). Still, more than $2 billion will need some work to recoup!

The LED system was desiged and created by SACO Technologies of Montreal (it took five years to develop) and the system for driving the display is from 7thSense.

As well as the big LED display, the atrium of the Sphere incudes a display based on 420 spinning LED modules from Hypervsn. These exploit the persistence of human vision to create a kind of transparent LED display. The full Hypervsn display is 30′ x 50′ (9m x 15m).

Coming to London?

There are plans to build a second Sphere in East London, but the plans have been strongly opposed by local residents and a decision about whether to allow the development is pending based on the views of the Mayor of London and a government minister that is responsible for planning.

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