The representatives from German audio technology company Holoplot divide our group into two parallel lines five feet apart, standing perpendicular to a wall of speakers 50 feet away. Our line hears a guitar. After we swap positions with the other line, we then hear a violin—and no guitar, even though it’s still playing just five feet away. If that wasn’t impressive enough, another recording starts playing at a certain volume, and when we walk up and put our ears to the speaker stack—“Don’t try this with any other sound system!” warns the Holoplot rep—we still hear it at the same exact volume.
Now imagine the same experience from the last row in an 18,000-plus-seat arena. Steerable sound, as demonstrated during a May 18 VIP/press event inside a Strip-adjacent hangar, will be just one of several technological innovations featured in the forthcoming MSG Sphere arena. And when they are all simultaneously deployed mid-show, the resulting multisensory experience will dramatically alter the concertgoing experience.
The wow-factors threaten to spilleth over for the Madison Square Garden Company venue, set to break ground behind the Venetian sometime this year and open by the end of 2020. Its physical presence—the 360-foot-tall venue takes its name from its shape—will embolden the already icon-loaded Strip skyline, especially when its 190,000 linear feet of LED lighting is plugged in.
That’ll dominate your Instagram feed, as will the awe-striking, 170,000-square-foot hi-res LED screen that will line nearly half of the globe’s interior and extend all the way over the entire performance and seating area, consuming its giant audience not unlike Caesars Palace’s former—and much smaller—Omnimax Theatre. Complementing that giant screen will be the aforementioned steerable sound; bass-centric infrasound haptic floor panels that will enable you to feel everything you’re hearing and seeing; mechanisms that can re-create weather-like sensations; supersized wifi connectivity that will reverse years of poor mid-concert cellular reception; and, in the coming years, augmented reality features that will further merge the analog and digital realms. At this point, you might be asking yourself: Is this a concert venue or a Disney ride?
It’s not the only question left unanswered (the May 18 event didn’t include a Q&A session). For one: Who’s going to perform in such a venue, given its size and scope? While Cirque-like stage shows and corporate presentations will be included in the mix, this is primarily a concert venue, and it’s hard to imagine a non-resident show adapting its tour production to this very specific facility. Which is why MSG will be making its technology available to anyone wanting to further enhance their show—something that could prove useful once other Spheres open (one is currently slated for London). And speaking of residents: With George Strait filling T-Mobile Arena three or four weekends a year, it’s likely that MSG and promoter partner Live Nation will flex some competitive muscle and seek out household names for its calendar. Adele, you still nosing around the Strip for a steady gig?
As the project evolves, so will associated logistics, such as parking and transportation infrastructure. But one thing’s certain: It’ll separate the wheat from the chaff among Vegas’ concert venue glut. The MSG Sphere seems hellbent on being the local arena you’ll actually want to visit.