Bringing a new device to market is incredibly difficult, and especially so in a field already dominated by monstrous players like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. There were many reasons why the Phantom never came to be, but a rare prototype of the console that no one knew existed is now up for auction.
First announced in 2002 by a startup called Infinium Labs (that would later be renamed Phantom Entertainment) the Phantom console was promised to be a revolutionary new platform that eschewed discs and cartridges in favor of using the internet to deliver titles through what would be the world’s first on-demand video game service using downloads and subscriptions. Downloading games to a hard drive in a console is commonplace today, but when the Phantom was announced it was a revolutionary idea, and one that was probably ahead of its time as smaller hard drive capacities and limited access to high-speed internet in the early aughts posed significant challenges to the Phantom coming to fruition.
The amount of hype behind the product, the lack of functional demos and licensed games, and funding challenges also contributed to the Phantom never going into production and ending up on countless vaporware lists year after year. A working prototype was demonstrated at E3 in May of 2004, with promises the console would go on sale in November the same year, but the release date slipped again and again, and in February of 2006 it was announced that the Phantom was delayed indefinitely—its fate to this day.
At Quakecon 2004, a prototype of the Phantom console was destroyed on stage by Kyle Bennett whose website, HardOCP, had been sued by Infinium Labs after it ran a story that was critical of the company, which eventually lost well over $60 million after all was said and done. It was one of just two units known to exist that feature the Phantom console’s original design. The other unit surfaced at a computer repair shop in Florida in 2015, as reported by Ars Technica.
If you’re a collector of doomed technology, a working prototype of the Phantom console is now up for bidding at Heritage Auctions, with ‘working’ being a very loose description of what it can do. The console, essentially just a PC in a fancy case, powers up and its LED faceplate glows blue, but all the hardware does is play a short promotional demo reel when connected to a screen. We’ve reached out to Heritage Auctions to try and confirm if this was the prototype discovered in 2015 in Florida, or a third possible iteration, and will update this story when we know more. But you’ve got less than a couple of weeks to make a bid and add this victim of the console wars to your collection.