Madison Square Garden officials lifted the curtain a bit on their MSG Sphere Arena entertainment venues coming to Las Vegas and London, with a demonstration Thursday that hinted at advanced technology going into the design and experiences for audiences within the new-generation venues.
In his presentation at the Forum in Inglewood, which his company rejuvenated in 2014 with a $100-million face and body lift, Madison Square Garden Co. chairman James L. Dolan cited a short story from science-fiction author and futurist Ray Bradbury’s 1951 anthology “The Illustrated Man” as something of a spiritual model for the new facilities.
In particular, he referenced Bradbury’s story “The Veldt,” which centered on a high-tech room of the future, called the “liquid crystal room,” which could synthesize any environment in which children desired to play or explore.
The company will break ground this summer on the Las Vegas location, he said, and construction is expected to be done by the end of 2020, potentially in time for a New Year’s Eve event to christen it.
A sibling venue in London, going up on a five-acre parcel that Madison Square Garden Co. has bought in Stratford, is expected to open about a year later, and Dolan told The Times that the company anticipates rolling out additional sphere arenas in other cities at a fairly prompt pace once the first two are operational.
Dolan tossed out some impressively large numbers about the project, which will employ a gargantuan video display screen surrounding the seating area and spanning roughly 170,000 square feet, the equivalent of about 42 IMAX movie screens all linked together. “It will be the largest and highest resolution LED screen on Earth,” Dolan said.
A single panel measuring 40 feet by 50 feet was lighted up with an underwater image of a shark. Dolan pointed out that it constituted just 1% of the total display area the new arenas will employ.
“Most of today’s arenas are using less technology than you are now carrying around in your pocket,” he said.
The sphere arenas will be stressing connectivity with visitors, welcoming smartphones and tablets and promising high-speed access for each of the potential capacity of 18,500 people in the arena, a figure that can be stretched up to 20,000 at events that allow for standing room on the arena floors.
Those floors are being designed with resonant panels that will conduct sound vibrations to each seat location to heighten sensory experiences.
Three main forms of content are expected to occupy most of the arenas’ available dates: 60- to 70-minute projections that can include virtual reality presentations; live performances, including concerts by top pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B and country entertainers; and educational and demonstration-focused presentations such as new product exhibitions and conventions.
Before an audience of several dozen high-level entertainment industry veterans, Hollywood-based content creators and members of the media, Dolan said the Sphere Arena experience is being designed to affect four of the five physical senses: sight, sound, smell and touch.
“For those of you wondering about taste,” Dolan said, “we’ve got nothing for you at this point except popcorn.”
Attendees were able to experience a new type of sound system the sphere arenas will use, called “beamforming audio.” Instead of pumping sound through traditional loudspeakers at volume high enough to reach people in all areas of a large physical space, beamforming audio targets sound more precisely, allowing a consistent volume throughout the arena.
Sound also can be directed with considerable precision, as demonstrated through playback of separate recordings of a saxophone that could be heard in one location, and an electric guitar that became audible if the listener moved just a few feet away.
In addition to the new-generation sound system, the arenas’ other technology will give musical performers the ability to create elaborate immersive environments for live performances.
By way of example, Dolan said that Sting could combine his interest in preserving Amazon rain forests with a concert presentation blending songs on the subject with a visual tour of a rain forest featuring not just the sights and sounds of that region but the smells, the heat and mists of the tropics as well.
Madison Square Garden Co. expects to operate the Las Vegas and London venues, but Dolan said the company wouldn’t necessarily be the exclusive owner-operator of future sphere arenas it builds. Company officials have declined to reveal cost estimates for the arenas.
The choice of the Forum as the site for Thursday’s demonstration, Dolan said, reflected the fact that, “This in many ways got [the Sphere Arena project] started. It was a sports arena that we turned into a music venue that we think is the best-sounding music venue in the world and also the most fun place to do a show. It brought up the question of ‘What’s next?’”
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