The band kicked off a 25-show residency with the first performance at the MGM Sphere, a $3.1-billion music and entertainment facility that’s already a major part of the skyline in Sin City, but includes some significant Canadian content.
Montreal’s Saco Technologies designed and built the LED screens on both the inside and outside of the building. A team from the company was in Las Vegas for the U2 show.
Jonathan Labbee, Saco’s co-CEO, says the company worked on the project for five years and knew what to expect, but he was still shocked.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it in my career,” he says. “And we do this for a living!”
Labbe says the “mind-blowing” Sphere project pushed the limits of LED video technology — on both the inside and outside of the structure.
Saco designed and installed 1.2 million LED pucks spaced 22.5 centimetres apart on the outside, called the Exosphere. Each is made up of 48 individual LED diodes capable of displaying 256 million different colours.
The exterior is used as a billboard promoting events and videogames, but it’s also added some flair to the Las Vegas skyline, appearing at times as a basketball, a globe, an eyeball or a smiling yellow emoji.
On the inside, the venue sits about 18,000 people with an LED screen wrapping around and over the audience. The screen is made up of individual panels.
“It’s 170 million pixels,” Labbee says. “It’s the highest resolution screen of any type in the world.”
Saco has been a part of some major international projects. It built the lighting system on the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood Florida, a 36-storey building shaped like a guitar.
The company also added an LED lighting system to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in 2017. The project affixed more than 1.2 million RGB pixels over the 828-metre tall building.
The Vegas Sphere grew out of a sketch by James Dolan, the executive chair of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.
Dolan and his team wanted to create a new entertainment venue in Vegas and considered a building shaped like a pyramid, a box — and even a muffin — before settling on a sphere.
Speaking on his way into the U2 show Friday, Dolan said he’s confident the building, which came in more than a billion dollars over budget and two years late, will still be a success.
“This is experiential,” Dolan says. “It’s something that people haven’t ever felt before, and I believe they’re going to love it.”
The venue also has a state-of-the-art sound system, but one that’s not visible. The video panels were designed to be in front of the speakers, but to allow the sound through.
“When you sit inside, there is nothing there,” Labbee says. “There are no audio stacks or speakers. The entire surface in front of you, behind you, and above you, is a video screen.”
Another of the concertgoers at U2’s first show was Jason Messina, a Texan who runs a YouTube page called “Audiophile Junkies.”
He says in terms of technology, the show felt like walking a decade into the future.
“Both in terms of audio and video, when you combine both of those senses, it makes it much more memorable,” Messina says. “It’s going to be hard to go back to a concert without that!”
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