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‘Virtual reality without the goggles’: why The Sphere could make stadiums extinct



There is a new showbiz star in Las Vegas… and it’s a building. Irish rock supergroup U2 inaugurated the hi-tech, purpose-built Sphere venue this weekend, with an utterly spectacular multimedia extravaganza that will surely go down in Vegas history. Yet the real headline stealer was not the band but the Sphere itself, a venue with the potential to change the future of live entertainment. And there could be one landing in London in the very near future.

Seven years in the making, at a cost in excess of $2.3 billion, the Sphere is a mind bogglingly huge orb (flattened at the base) that looks like it has crash landed behind the Vegas strip from outer space. At 336 foot tall and 516 foot wide it is the largest spherical structure in the world, with an LED exterior that glows and pulses with ever changing imagery, its vast surface transforming miraculously from a baby in an astronaut helmet to a replica globe of the planet Mars. It juts out from the already rather eccentric city skyline as if the Death Star has touched down and canny Vegas locals have immediately plugged it in and turned it into an advertising hoarding.

Accessible via a walkway from the Venetian Hotel, inside the Sphere is a vast science fictional atrium occupying 5.7 million cubic feet. At its core is a huge 18,600 seater amphitheatre (20,000 with floor standing space) with a wraparound overhead LED 16K screen made up of 268,435,456 video pixels. Effectively the audience is seated inside the highest resolution TV screen in the world. 

“The scale is different to anything that has existed before,” according to Ric Lipson of British entertainment architects Stufish, who worked with U2’s creative director Willie Williams to design and build this show. “Set design has drifted in the past decade from being about scenery to video visuals, where your only real limitation is what screen you display the media on. 

“Now big stadium tours do a pretty good job of connecting with audiences via screens that are often about 45 foot high and 180 foot wide. But at the Sphere you’re dealing with a screen that’s 250 foot tall and 400 foot wide. We did the Beyoncė Renaissance tour, and you could fit 12 of her screens into the Sphere. The fact that the whole sky is really your canvas is sort of mind blowing.”

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