Sphere – a new kind of entertainment coming to your town

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    At the end of September, all eyes were on Las Vegas. simply” ball. The name doesn’t tell you anything. The Sphere, which is over 100 meters tall and 150 meters wide, could be a spaceship that escaped from nearby Area 51. Like an alien artifact, its outer skin is emitted in Technicolor and covered in a video display of sufficient brightness and resolution that it can display eyeballs, planets, or anything else round enough to create the illusion. Anything can be visibly transformed. But while its exterior is stunning, it doesn’t match the magic inside.

    The interior half of the Sphere features steeply sloping stadium seating for nearly 19,000 people, all facing the stage. But that stage isn’t Sphere’s star attraction. The other half of the interior acts as a single, very high-resolution display. Stretching 100 meters behind the stage and 100 meters to the left and right of the stage, a huge number of LED “pixels” are scattered across his surface at 20 cm intervals, each one of his 256 million colors. can be generated. Doing so may make the image seem oddly blocky and patchy, but the viewer is more than 100 meters away from the wall, so these pixels appear closer. Masu. This is the opposite of the “retinal” effect that makes current generation smartphones look so sharp. Pixels are closer together than our eyes can resolve them individually. It gives the impression of a super super super high resolution image, equivalent to 256 high definition television screens.

    U2 performing at the Sphere in Las Vegas on September 30, 2023. Credit: Phillip Lebowitz (CC BY-SA 4.0 Agreement)

    The effect is amazing. When U2 took to the stage for their first concert, and the premiere of Sphere, even they were stunned by the overwhelming performance unfolding right behind them. The illuminated surface changed continuously. One moment you’re in a surreal version of Las Vegas just on the other side of the sphere, another moment you’re in the desert landscape of Joshua Tree, and another moment you’re inside a giant concrete container. I can see it.

    As I was looking, first video of that performance – Posted just hours after the event ended – We found ourselves stepping into a new kind of entertainment with roots that go back more than 30 years. In the early 1990s, virtual reality generated the same buzz that artificial intelligence does today, but few people had ever actually stepped into a VR environment. Rare, expensive and delicate, only researchers have regular access to this technology, and the best of these systems (which can cost millions of dollars) use cutting-edge components. Even showed an ambiguous view of the virtually generated landscape. .

    Its skin glows in Technicolor, like an alien artifact.

    why? The “head-mounted display” that became a hallmark of the VR experience used a separate display for each eye, but offered perhaps 300 pixels spread over an 80-degree “field of view.” If you sit down and do a little math in your chair, you’ll find that each pixel needs to cover nearly 1 degree of his third of the field of view, or 3.75 “pixels per degree.” When you consider that a full moon in the night sky is only about half a degree wide, you can see why that level of resolution is insufficient for almost everything.

    The interior of the sphere during U2's performance is illuminated with art on the concrete wall.
    U2 performing at the Sphere in Las Vegas on September 30, 2023. Credit: Phillip Lebowitz (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

    Better displays would solve this problem, but the technology for small, high-resolution displays is 20 years away. Until smartphones became popular, neither chip designers nor display manufacturers had enough market demand to invest billions of dollars in new processes that make today’s Retina-class displays possible. But we already had the technology for large, high-resolution displays, or data projectors. In the 1990s, a new market of “home theaters” using projection displays encouraged anyone with the money to project high-resolution images onto any surface.


    Placing ourselves in a virtual world engages our imagination much more effectively than wearing a “face sucker” display.

    VR researcher Carolina Cruz Niera and her colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago realized that they could use data projectors to turn VR “inside out.” Instead of projecting the generated image inside a head-mounted display, why not use a data projector to project the image onto the wall? No need for bulky, heavy, low-resolution headsets. Additionally, you can have multiple people participate in the virtual world at the same time.this “CAVE virtual environment” It has created a huge stir in the VR world, upending design principles and revolutionizing the scope of virtual reality. The ability to repurpose a fully darkened room as a virtual environment has allowed people to get creative very quickly. CAVE functioned both as a technology and as a fundamental statement of design. This means you can flip open VR and reveal new ways of thinking about space.

    Throughout the mid-1990s, various VR productions used CAVE or adapted parts of it into epic walkaround and walkthrough VR productions. This is still an essential technology today. recent works, para girlsuses a walkthrough immersion to record the true and horrifying story of abuse at Parramatta Women’s Correctional Institution. Whereas headset VR often struggles to create a sense of place and people tend to remain stationary for safety reasons, CAVE-based VR allows for a full-body ‘immersion’ experience. can.

    A person stands in the center of a small room with landscape images projected onto the walls.
    Cave automated virtual environment at EVL at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This shows the user (me) in the CAVE. This was taken while CAVE was being upgraded to use a new 5000 lumen Christie Mirage DLP projector. Credit: Davepape

    It’s the same immersion that audiences experience in Sphere. Placing ourselves in a virtual world engages our imagination much more effectively than wearing a “face sucker” display. And CAVEs aren’t ideal for all VR applications. Most of the time, we prefer the virtual world to spread around us rather than being squeezed into it.

    Soon cities will be competing to build their own spheres.

    We currently have CAVEs that can handle nearly 20,000 “Immersants” simultaneously, and as it appears to be a huge success, we can expect this technology to become ubiquitous. Soon cities will be competing to build their own spheres. It’s easy to imagine it popping up in Shanghai, Singapore, and Dubai. Any metropolis that touts its status as a “world city” will seek to create its own enclave to attract top-notch entertainers. And while there’s a mad dash to build the Sphere, it’s also easy to see another line of development bringing it back.

    The latest generation of PC “gaming” displays are getting wider and wider, with their edges curving back towards the user, hinting at the beginnings of a spherical wraparound. 4x the height and 2x the width and you have what I call the “HomeSphere”, the must-have consumer display of the early 2030s. CAVE returns as a new high-tech toy that takes him back 30,000 years to the first light show that played out on cave walls.


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