The big picture: Infinium Labs created quite the ruckus in the early 2000s with the introduction of the Phantom, a PC-like home video game console that promised to do away with cartridges and discs in favor of a direct-download content delivery service. It never materialized as a consumer product, but now you've got a chance to own a rare prototype.
The system suffered multiple setbacks and ultimately never made it to market, but what many will likely remember most about the Phantom is the legal battle between Infinium Labs and tech site HardOCP.
As the story goes, HardOCP posted an investigative report about Infinium Labs and its founder in late 2003. A few months later, Infinium Labs sent a cease and desist letter to Hard, demanding the piece be taken down. A legal battle ensued, in which HardOCP was victorious. In the end, Infinium Labs paid $50,000 to close the case.
Only a few prototype Phantom consoles were known to exist. At QuakeCon 2004, HardOCP’s Kyle Bennett smashed one to bits in front of a live audience. More recently in 2015, a prototype surfaced at a computer repair shop in Florida. And now, one is up for auction courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
Gaming memorabilia has been a hot commodity as of late. Back in August, someone paid $2 million for a sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. A month earlier, a copy of Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million, besting a record set a few days earlier for a rare copy of The Legend of Zelda.
The ceiling for the prototype Phantom console is as much a mystery as the console was back in the day. We also don’t yet know if this is the same unit that showed up in the repair shop in 2015, or a third prototype. A quick comparison of the scratches on the 2015 model to that of the one up for auction suggest it isn’t the same, or that it might have been repaired. Heritage has it listed as the sole surviving example of the gaming industry’s most infamous piece of vaporware, so perhaps it is the very same one from a few years back?
A digital-based console that relies on over-the-Internet delivery of content isn't anything to get excited about today. Heck, it's quickly becoming the norm. But in the early 2000s, it was a revolutionary idea that was way ahead of its time. But for whatever reason, Infinium couldn't deliver.
Mind you, the first console to offer such functionality - the Ouya - wouldn't hit the scene until mid-2013, roughly a decade later.
Heritage confirmed that the system, which is really just a PC in a fancy chassis, does power up and plays a short demo reel promoting the console. This would make a nice addition to a well-rounded video game collection, but that's really all it's good for at this point.
The current bid is $340.
Images courtesy Heritage Auctions