Near the center of the Las Vegas Strip, there is a gigantic eye watching over you. It’s not always an eye; sometimes it’s an emoji, a planet, a jack-o-lantern, a basketball, swimming humpback whales, even a freaky space baby. If endless possibilities light up its surface, just imagine what wonders lie within. Welcome, earthlings, to Sphere.
Ever since its external screens lit up on July 4, 2023, Sphere has made a case to become the city’s official icon, supplanting the Las Vegas sign, the High Roller Observation Wheel, even the hotels and casinos on the strip.
We went to Vegas to visit this technological marvel and decode its secrets. Let’s countdown everything you need to know.
5 The Dream: From Doodle to Dome
Sphere officially opened on September 29, 2023. As per the official account, the concept of Sphere started circa 2016 with somebody doodling a circle with a stick figure inside.
Yet the sketch artist was no preschooler nor Tim Robbins, but James L. Dolan, chairman/CEO of MSG Entertainment. The man in charge of Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, several classy theaters and two New York pro sports teams.
Together with David Dibble, head of the company’s MSG Ventures division, Dolan landed on the idea of a ball shaped entertainment venue with outside projections worthy of Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. This after drawing and discarding other shapes like that of a muffin.
Seven years, 2.3 billion dollars and a lot of advanced math turned this bonkers concept of Sphere into a mesmerizing reality. The lesson? Never question your dreams nor throw away your old sketchbooks, kids.
4 The Specs: What Makes Sphere Possible
What sort of sci-fi structure can you build with the worldwide box office gross of Avatar: The Way of Water? The world’s largest spherical structure, for starters. A huge dome-shaped exoskeleton 516 feet (218 meters) wide and 366 feet (112 meters) tall would be impressive enough on its own, dwarfing Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. (Apologies, Walt.)
However, this particular gigantic metal ball stands out because of the 400 LED panels attached to its surface, which together create a 580,000 square-foot (177.000 square meter) spherical screen. Each panel can project images of up to 256 million colors, bright enough to impress any onlookers peeking out of orbiting space shuttles or UFOs.
The images projected alternate between animated ads specially designed for Sphere, and random images, some simple and others truly psychedelic. Many of these were created by Refik Anadol, a media artist, director, and instructor at UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts. His specialty involves creating art with the help of machine intelligence.
Sphere’s core is pretty remarkable as well. The outer shell houses an inner sphere, the venue bowl that serves as its main auditorium, surrounded by wide interconnected hallways and an Atrium. The amphitheater arrangement holds about 18,000 seats and can accommodate around 20,000 people.
Any performer playing in this space will wow the audience with the Dome, its 160,000 square-foot wraparound LED playing images at 16K resolution (the world’s largest high-definition screen). Those large images are enhanced by spatial sound blasting through 164,000 hidden speakers.
This achievement was possible with plenty of engineering ingenuity, combining every single math equation you neglected to remember after graduation.
3 The Sphere: First Impression
Like most great landmarks, you can appreciate Sphere free of charge whether or not you wish it. We saw it from the plane approaching Harry Reid International Airport. It saw us while in a cab heading to our hotel at night. Had we left the curtains open, we would’ve bathed in its iridescence, maybe even gotten a tan. If you stand on the Strip and have a clear, unobstructed view, you cannot ignore the thing.
Daylight might be the only nemesis to Sphere’s jaw-dropping projections, but it hardly erases them from view. The sun’s rays around noon make the LED shell slightly translucent, which lets you appreciate the structure’s exoskeleton.
Nothing to Fear But Sphere Itself
As for the feeling of watching it for the first time. We are lucky travelers, having visited many wondrous sights and with plenty of countries still left to visit. The closest thing we can imagine to seeing Sphere yourself is to compress the whole of New York’s Times Square in a big crystal ball.
Pictures, video, social media posts. All these lack the sense of scale to properly depict the reality of Sphere, especially because we usually view them in our smartphone screens. Maybe an IMAX-size iPhone Pro Max would suffice, but hardly. Imagine a huge orb of light which alludes sense and can represent anything, everything, in a photoreal detail.
This sounds unsettling read out loud, but we attest Sphere comes off as quite comforting or a gentle giant. Big Brother now sells us all NBA tickets and video games with smiley face emojis come to life.
2 The Core: What Does Sphere Offer
What can you find inside? As we’ve established, Sphere is first and foremost an event venue, which makes exploring its interior a little tricky. Your options boil down to buying tickets for a show at the venue, getting invited to some event held inside or signing up for The Sphere Experience. In our case, we were there for the U2 residency that helped open the venue. More on that later.
Entrance requires digital tickets or passes, either stored on a participating app like Ticketmaster or added to your Apple/Google wallet. Find your tickets on your device, scan them at the front gate and off you go.
Once inside, you walk through the Atrium, a large and imposing hall out of TRON: Legacy, both minimalist and saturated with design elements. Tthis futuristic-looking space features a 50-foot holographic installation showing floating images (the name of the U2 concert, in our case). Bars, concession stands, and gift shops are available throughout.
Rock ‘N’ Roll at 16K
As we mentioned, we visited Sphere for U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere, a dazzling residency by the legendary Irish rock outfit. As the name implies, the show marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s Achtung Baby album.
We walked up to our section and sat in front of a giant concrete wall with arches and a circular opening pointed at the sky and a dove flapping around, seemingly lost. Plot twist: this was all a projection on the Dome screen. Once fans were seated and the opening DJ finished his set, the show began.
Full disclosure: although the Dome screen is overwhelming, the presence of seating prevents it from being a true 360-degree experience. Not that you’d notice.
U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere Highlights
To describe what follows in detail would be pointless and would spoil the show. We’ll stick to just a few details.
This experience was the closest we’ve ever felt to being inside The Volume, the Holodeck-like soundstage with computer-generated backgrounds used to film shows like The Mandalorian.
There’s a moment during the concert where the Sphere “opens up” and shows Las Vegas at night. We swear we saw our hotel suite, a credit to the screen’s 16K resolution.
At another instance, when night turned into day, we felt the sun had in fact come out, a great example of the screen’s brightness.
Besides the precise image detail, the visuals also incorporated live images of the band during the concert. Perfect for enjoying all the action from any seat.
The human element doesn’t get lost within all the technology behind Sphere. Every image, every projection, is supervised by real people and it shows. Also, the cameras and big screen served to augment the passion behind the performance of all U2 members, even more so during the surprise Lady Gaga duet.
The Sphere Experience: Androids and Holograms and Movies, Oh My
For the moment, besides freaking out to giant Bono and friends, the only other entertainment option within Sphere is appropriately named The Sphere Experience. This event showcases all that Sphere can offer via a two-hour, two-part multi-sensory feast for the senses.
During the first hour you follow one of five humanoid robots, all named Aura, that guide you through a sort of digital playground. You get captured as a 360-degree avatar, watch AI-generated artwork, and learn about Sphere’s sound system, among other activities.
By hour two, you enter the venue bowl for a showing of Postcards from Earth by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, of Black Swan fame. This specially commissioned multi-sensorial experience re-imagines Planet Earth as a sci-fi movie. A trippy nature doc on acid, on a screen so large Aronofsky fit the entire film credits on a single 90-second-long cue card.
Tickets for The Sphere Experience start at 49 dollars and can go up to 249 dollars. Ticket discounts are available for groups of nine people or more.
Get Your Party Started
What else is there to do at Sphere besides rock to The Edge and roam the Earth? Since when do you need an invitation when you can bring the party with you? Like many entertainment venues, Sphere has VIP spaces designed to host special occasions and business events.
Pick a Premium Suite to host friend gatherings or business meetings during venue events. Invite up to 32 people to your event and catch the live show playing. Make it 24 or less and enjoy The Sphere Experience with your group in best-in-house box seats.
Looking to host a big product launch, office Christmas party or wedding reception? Take over the whole Sphere space with a Custom Experience for up to 17,500 guests. Only interested in learning about Sphere? A guided venue tour for 9 or more guests is in the works.
1 The Future: The First of Many
We’ve seen all that Sphere is now, so what can we expect it to become?
For starters, expect more special events and immersive experiences, mostly produced at Sphere Studios. This production facility located in Burbank, California was created with the specific purpose of creating content for Sphere.
The facilities include the R&D department responsible for Big Sky, the ultra-high resolution camera system used to capture images for Sphere videos, as well as Big Dome, a smaller dome compared to Sphere that nevertheless serves as a preview screen.
Postcards from Earth is Sphere Studios’ first release, but more productions will premiere once other artists and filmmakers get a hand on the “toys” Sphere Studios has created. Why produce loads of content that can only be fully shown in one venue in the world? Which brings us to the next part of the plan: world domination.
Once Sphere in Las Vegas proves profitable and enough content is created by its studios, the next step will be to build more spheres and large domes around the world. Sphere Entertainment Co. is already in pre-production on the London version, with more locations to follow. (We’re betting Dubai is a shoe-in.)
In the meantime, Sphere is a unique modern marvel worthy of the attention it’s receiving. Until our planet overruns with its oval brethren. What a bright future to have in store.
Now, Some Tips
Here are some pointers to help you get the most out of your Sphere visit.
Walking around the Las Vegas Strip can be a hassle (especially when the Formula 1 Grand Prix comes around). We recommend booking a nearby hotel to save you the trouble.
Your best bets in this regard are The Venetian Resort Hotel (and its sister hotel, The Palazzo at The Venetian) or the Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Desert Club Resort. The Venetian has a pedestrian bridge to Sphere, while the Holiday Inn is only a six-minute walk through Sphere’s parking lot.
To paraphrase Bono: “All That You Can, Leave Behind.” Sphere is a cashless venue with a “no bag” policy and no place to store belongings.
Large bags, backpacks, professional cameras (photo or video), camera equipment, weapons of any kind, and outside food or drinks are prohibited. Small purses and fanny packs are OK but will be searched. Small soft-plastic bottles are allowed to refill at available water fountains.
Keep your inventory light. Bring your smartphone and credit card – or preferred mobile payment method – as well as your ID.
For information about medications, accessibility, service animals, or other inquiries, contact Sphere Guest Services at +1 (725) 258-6724 or email them at: email@example.com
Be Health Conscious
Speaking of medications, are you prone to dizziness, nausea, seizures, or other health/related issues. While Sphere isn’t a roller coaster, shows may include seat haptics, movement sensations, flashing lights, loud noises, even atmospheric simulations including fog, scent, and wind.
So, if you have certain conditions that may aggravate with any of the above-mentioned elements, take the necessary medical precautions before you go to ensure a safe and pleasant Sphere experience.
Find Your Center
There are no bad seats within Sphere. That said, purchase seats in the middle sections if you can afford them (sections 205 to 207 and 305 to 307). This placement will make the big screen fill your entire field of vision, resulting in a truly immersive experience.
Mind Your Belongings
Had a good time at Sphere and are ready to hit the Strip? Check your seat and pockets first to make sure you have all your belongings with you. All exits from Sphere are final, meaning once you’re out, the only way back in is by purchasing another ticket on a different day.
Relax, though; Sphere has a lost and found. If you haven’t left the venue, find the nearest guest experience representative. Otherwise, contact Sphere Guest Services.
Where to Find It
255 Sands Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89169
+1 (725) 258-0001