The gaming console that never was: Infinium Phantom prototype rises at Heritage Auctions

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The gaming console that never was: Infinium Phantom prototype rises at Heritage Auctions
Infinium Labs Phantom (Robrady Design) - Prototype Console c. 2003 USA. Current Bid:

DALLAS, TX.- Throughout the history of video game consoles, there have been many brilliant ideas that couldn't be executed, because they were ahead of the tech at the time. This is one such idea.

In the early 2000s, Sarasota-based Infinium Labs (later known as Phantom Entertainment, Inc.) had an idea of eschewing game cartridges and discs in favor of digital downloads stored in the console on a hard drive. That would mean no more blowing dust out of cartridges, no more worries about discs getting scratched, and no more media taking up physical space.

Using an online subscription model was a grand, forward-thinking plan, and a widely used version of this initial idea would not be widely used until years later. This idea was first had in a day when high-speed internet access began to emerge as the most convenient (and affordable) method for the world wanting constant access to the internet.

With considerable excitement for the console fueled by press releases from the company, it needed funding to develop and produce it … and a lot of it.

However, without the millions of dollars needed to fund this into existence, the Phantom never got beyond the prototype stage. Since then, it has been considered one of the gaming industry's most infamous pieces of vaporware. Famously, a first-generation prototype was destroyed onstage in 2004 at QuakeCon. And for years, that was thought to be the only one of its kind.

Another Robrady-designed prototype of the Phantom has emerged, and will find a new home when it is sold in Heritage Auctions' Video Games Signature® Auction Oct. 29-31.

"Though the Phantom never made its way to production, it's still an important part of video game and computer history," Heritage Auctions Video Games Managing Director Valarie McLeckie said. "The idea of ditching physical media like discs and cartridges for video games was revolutionary for the time. PC gamers have almost completely abandoned physical media to play games, and even the biggest video game companies now see a large portion of their video game sales via digital downloads."

While a new "slim" prototype model was debuted at trade shows in 2005, Infinium Labs never released a Phantom console in any form to the public. The company went on to make a wireless keyboard known as the Phantom Lapboard, keeping — somewhat — the Phantom dream alive.

Digital downloads now dominate the gaming industry. Those have hard drives built for the kind of capacity and speed to handle state-of-the-art games. So the Phantom is, in essence, the start of what would become commonplace.

The prototype does power up, even though there are no games to play on it. The LED faceplate lights up, and a short demo reel plays.

This an incredible artifact from something that was inarguably ahead of its time. Enough people believed in the idea of digital gaming and many embraced it, allowing this prototype to become an important part of the foundation of modern gaming.

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