Inside tech: the Sphere’s 18K camera sensor explained

The largest cinema camera sensor in commercial use, Big Sky’s sensor is almost seven times larger than the full-frame sensors in high-end commercial cameras.


Sphere Entertainment Co has revealed new details of its work with leading semiconductor firm STMicroelectronics to create the world’s largest image sensor for Sphere’s Big Sky camera system.

Big Sky is the ultra-high-resolution camera system being used to capture content for Sphere in Las Vegas.

Inside the venue, Sphere features the world’s largest, high-resolution LED screen which wraps up, over, and around the audience. To capture content for this 15,000 sq metre, 16K x 16K display, the Big Sky camera system was designed by Sphere Studios – the in-house content studio developing original live entertainment experiences for Sphere.

Working with Sphere Studios, ST manufactured a first-of-its-kind, 18K sensor capable of capturing images at the scale and fidelity necessary for Sphere’s display. Big Sky’s sensor – now the world’s largest cinema camera sensor in commercial use – works with the world’s sharpest cinematic lenses to capture detailed, large-format images in a way never before possible.

“Big Sky significantly advances cinematic camera technology, with each element representing a leap in design and manufacturing innovation,” said Deanan DaSilva, lead architect of Big Sky at Sphere Studios. “The sensor on any camera is critical to image quality, but given the size and resolution of Sphere’s display, Big Sky’s sensor had to go beyond any existing capability. ST, working closely with Sphere Studios, leveraged their extensive expertise to manufacture a groundbreaking sensor that not only expands the possibilities for immersive content at Sphere, but also across the entertainment industry.”

“ST has been on the cutting edge of imaging technology, IP, and tools to create unique solutions with advanced features and performance for almost 25 years,” said Alexandre Balmefrezol, executive vice president and imaging sub-group general manager at STMicroelectronics. “Building a custom sensor of this size, resolution, and speed, with low noise, high dynamic range, and seemingly impossible yield requirements, presented a truly novel challenge for ST – one that we successfully met from the very first wafer out of our 12” (300mm) wafer fab in Crolles, France.”

ST’s imaging technologies and foundry services cater to a wide range of markets, including professional photography and cinematography. Big Sky’s 316-megapixel sensor is almost seven times larger and 40 times higher resolution than the full-frame sensors found in high-end commercial cameras. The die, which measures 9.92cm x 8.31cm (82.4 sq cm), is twice as large as a wallet-sized photograph, and only four full die fit on a 300mm wafer. The system is also capable of capturing images at 120 fps and transferring data at 60 gigabytes per second.

Big Sky also allows filmmakers to capture large-format images from a single camera without having to stitch content together from multiple cameras – avoiding issues common to stitching including near distance limitations and seams between images. Ten patents and counting have been filed by Sphere Studios in association with Big Sky’s technology.

Darren Aronofsky’s Postcard from Earth, currently showing at Sphere as part of The Sphere Experience, is the first cinematic production to utilise Big Sky. Since its debut, Postcard from Earth has taken audiences on a journey spanning all seven continents, featuring visuals captured with Big Sky that make them feel like they have travelled to new worlds without leaving their seats in Las Vegas.

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