Immersive, bright, paradigm-shifting, and unsettling are all words that can describe the Sphere in Las Vegas. The 366-foot-tall, 516-foot-wide, geometrically distinct entertainment and event venue located at the Venetian Resort kicked off its first concert series on Sept. 29 with U2:UV Achtung Baby Live, a 25-show residency by the famed Irish rock band U2.
“What a fancy pad,” lead singer Bono was quoted as saying by the Associated Press, as he gazed up at the hi-definition, multistory LED screen wrapping him and the audience inside the $2.3 billion, 17,600-seat dome-shaped venue. This interior skin of LEDs comprises a 160,000-square-foot display with a resolution 100 times that of a high-definition television. But it is only part of the pioneering LED technology on display at the Sphere.
Cladding the Sphere’s round exterior is the world’s largest LED screen, according to owner Sphere Entertainment. Known as this Exosphere, this 580,000-square-foot, 360-degree surface has captivated news and social media outlets since July 4, when the expansive surface was entirely illuminated for the first time.
Following the obligatory “Hello World” message, the Exosphere has displayed everything from fireworks to underwater scenes, to branded promotions and advertisements, emojis, landscapes, abstract art, and giant eyeballs in vivid detail and color, creating an instant landmark just off the Las Vegas Strip. Transforming a spherical structure, designed by Populous, into a surreal digital canvas are approximately 1.2 million LEDs pucks, spaced 8 inches on center and containing 48 individual light-emitting diodes each.
According to Sphere’s July 5 press release, the 360-degree Exosphere canvas was developed by Sphere Studios, a Burbank, Calif.–based interdisciplinary team of creative, production, technology, and software experts, which partnered with Montreal-based SACO Technologies, a LED video lighting and media solutions leader, and 7th Sense, a creative software and technology company with offices in the U.K. and in Orlando, Fla.
In addition to U2’s residency, the Sphere is also currently showing Postcard from Earth, an immersive film by director Darren Aronofsky that leverages not just the venue’s multidimensional screen, but also its haptic seats, in-auditorium climate system, and array of 167,000 speakers. The venue also offers environmental effects such as breezes and familiar scents, according to a Sphere fact sheet.
As Variety writer Chris Willman described the experience of the Sphere in his Sept. 30 concert review, “Not to take any credit away from U2, but the most impressive moment of the Sphere show may be when you first walk in the room. … Above you, that massive domed ceiling has been made to look like you are in some industrial grain silo that has been constructed sky-high. (One seatmate described the feeling of looking up at this while waiting for the show to begin as ‘terrifying … but not in a bad way.’)”
To power the Sphere, Sphere Entertainment recently announced a 25-year agreement with Nevada’s largest electricity utility company, NV Energy, to maximize the amount of renewable energy serving the venue, according to an Aug. 24 press release. For any portion of electricity not sourced from renewable resources, “Sphere will voluntarily acquire certified renewable energy credits to fully mitigate the impact of emissions from the creation of electricity for the venue.” The company estimates Sphere will ultimately derive 70% of its power from dedicated solar and battery resources.
The venue also uses a distributed heating and cooling system to avoid wasteful reheating, while its data centers “have been designed to conform to state-of-the-art energy-efficient hot-aisle containment strategies and in-row cooling,” according to the press release.
However, with the Exosphere sending lumens into the sky largely all day and night, many lighting and design professionals are concerned about the amount of light pollution that the Sphere contributes. Oregon State University professor and former Leukos editor-in-chief Kevin Houser asked on LinkedIn, “Can we, the professional lighting community, do better?”
Many lighting professionals in their comments to Houser lamented the Exosphere’s contribution to skyglow, but others noted that what one profession values and prioritizes can be very different from what a business owner or investment team values and prioritizes.
The project was first conceived in 2015 by James Dolan, a New York–based owner of multiple sports teams, including the New York Knicks and Rangers; real estate properties, including Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall; and entertainment ventures, including MSG Networks, MSG Sportsnets, and now Sphere Entertainment Co., which owns this first iteration of Sphere. Future locations of the Sphere preliminarily in discussion include London.