The Sphere promises a 'VR without goggles' concert experience - starting with U2

This giant, spherical LED dome aims to change the concert experience forever. Will it?
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
sphere theater in Las Vegas
Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images

It's been called "The Eye of Sauron," "an expensive boondoggle," "The Death Star," and "a new art form" by onlookers. But what it hopes to be called is a redefining of the concert and movie experience. 

Officially named "The Sphere," this massive theater in Las Vegas is set to open in late September with a 25-show run from rock legends U2. Visitors to the strip got a preview on July 4th as the exterior fully lit up for the first time, displaying stars and stripes, fireworks, and other patriotic images.

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At 366 feet tall and 516 feet wide, the Sphere is the biggest spherical structure in the world and contains the biggest programmable LED screen in the world, a wraparound screen covering the whole venue's exterior. 

the Sphere theater
Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images

But while certainly eye-catching, the outside isn't its most interesting feature.

On the inside, a massive 160,000 square foot 16K LED screen looms over more than 17,000 seats, filling the ceiling and walls above the audience and stage. Each one of those seats has its own speaker, and the majority have specially designed haptics built in that can shoot cold air, hot air, wind, and even scents.

The Sphere's sound system can also project certain sounds to certain audience members, with no bleeding between, according to its creators. They say one person could watch a movie in English while others nearby could hear it in Spanish, with no headphones being worn. One seat could hear an acoustic performance while another hears everything, including electric instruments.

The creators of The Sphere, David Dibble and James Dolan, have said they're out to completely change the concert experience. Instead of just a band on the stage, The Sphere promises a new level of immersion, with the immense screen's high resolution even making the venue's shape and size appear to shift among other elements.  

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 "VR experiences without those goggles" was how they pitched the project to investors -- which sounds like a much more communal experience than traditional VR. So far, VR has been indeed limited to a headset, and that's one of the biggest criticisms of the Metaverse experience (Lenovo is working on that). 

But can incredibly high-resolution screens combined with physical elements like aromas and wind, plus high-quality and headphone-free audio create a true VR experience? It's possible, but we'll have to wait until September to find out. 

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It's easy to see, though, how this could compete with or even surpass headset-based VR. The sheer size alone makes it a totally new experience, and the community aspect takes away one of the biggest downsides to VR. Live sporting events could be a blast in this environment.

For now, you'll have to head to a giant dome in the Nevada desert to witness this technology. But give it time and you may soon find a Sphere near you. 

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