The Las Vegas skyline will soon be dominated by a massive display. MSG Entertainment has started full testing of the Sphere, a 17,600-seat venue near the The Venetian Resort that’s defined by an enormous (516ft across and 366ft tall) animated dome and a wraparound internal 16K LED screen. It’s eye-catching on the outside, but the main attraction is the immersion for live entertainment on the internal display — it’s meant to rethink concerts and cinematic experiences.
As MSG’s James Dolan and David Dribble explain to Rolling Stone, the aim is to effectively create a VR experience without the “damn goggles.” Creators use a special camera to produce footage that envelops the audience. There’s also a unique 164,000-speaker audio system that can isolate specific sounds, or even limit them to certain parts of the audience. One section could hear only Spanish-language dialog, for instance.
Like “4D” movie theaters, the MSG Sphere also has a sensory experience for some guests. About 10,000 seats have haptics, cold, heat wind and scents. If you’re on a virtual trip to the Arctic, you might feel the coolness while you watch.
The venue will have its first performance on September 29th, when U2 starts a 25-show run with a custom production. The shows have effectively sold out, so you’ll have to rely on the inevitable flurry of social media videos to see what the Sphere looks like during its inaugural stint. Partial screen testing took place this spring.
Whether or not it’s a wise investment isn’t clear. Construction started in 2019, but the pandemic and technological complexity have swelled the expected cost to $2.3 billion. That will make it the most expensive venue in Las Vegas to date (even the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium costs ‘just’ $1.9 billion), and there are no guarantees MSG will recoup its investment in a timely fashion. It’s not clear what comes after U2’s concerts, either, although there is the possibility of hosting eSports tournaments and mixed martial arts fights.
The draw, however, is clear. Large-scale concerts typically take place in stadiums where the audio, visuals and seating are designed around sports, not music. Even traditional concert halls haven’t changed much over the decades. In theory, you’ll make a pilgrimage to the Sphere to get an experience you simply can’t get elsewhere.