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Rival to the Xbox or 'Phantom' menace?

By Walt McGraw
CNN Headline News

Infinium Labs developed the new Phantom gaming console.

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What the competition is saying about Phantom:

Microsoft (Xbox):
"It's difficult to draw any conclusions about its place in the industry."

Sony (PS2): "We are going to have to pass."

Nintendo (Gamecube): "Nintendo welcomes Infinium Labs to the industry and wishes them luck."

(CNN) -- A few weeks ago a new game console was unveiled on the Web called Phantom.

Its developer, Infinium Labs, promises it will be the "must-have high performance game console," and that the Phantom will provide "more access to more games of every genre than any competing product," all "with blazing speed."

Six months ago, it was only a rumor among hardcore gamers. In fact, it seemed Phantom was, as the American Heritage dictionary put it, "an image that appears only in the mind; an illusion."

The juiciest rumor was that there never would be a console called Phantom. The conspiracy theory went that the whole thing was a hoax, concocted as a PR stunt.

The "unveiling" hasn't seemed to quash those rumors.

The console's specs do sound dreamy. The company's Web site says Phantom's standard components will include "the highest performance nVidia video card," "the highest performance Intel motherboard," and a Windows XP operating system. But I couldn't help feeling haunted by the fact that I was missing the key to unlock Phantom. And it had to do with the fact that the box had lots of connectivity ports... and no CD-ROM drive.

I spoke to David Frederick, chief marketing officer at Infinium Labs.

BVGH: Am I nuts, or is Phantom less of a story about hardware, and more about a new way to deliver content?

Frederick: [laughs] Man, you are so on top of things. I'm not trying to be patronizing. That's it! It's a content delivery system. Phantom is a new way to deliver content into your living room. The box is a means to an end.

I thought of my TiVo, then my grandma's WebTV.

BVGH: It's WebTV, but for gaming.

Frederick: In a way. But we've taken it to the 10th degree. WebTV tried to take advantage of folks who weren't tech savvy. That was a closed, shrinking market. Whereas all our research indicates that online gaming -- and gaming as a whole -- is rapidly growing.

Frederick explained that retailers can really only carry the top 200 games. They just don't have the shelf space for more, he said. Legacy content that's six months old could still be really fun to play, but retailers have to make room for the new stuff -- until Phantom, he hopes.

Because it's always online, he went on, you'll be able to "shop" for games just like you use your TiVo to shop for television shows. And you can "try before you buy."

Frederick expects Phantom to come bundled with 50 or so games right off the bat, but wouldn't say which publishers, if any have already signed up. Still, he says, the folks at Infinium will make their scheduled release date of Q1 in '04, all for under $300 bucks at the outset, plus $10 bucks a month. And, of course, the cost of any premium games bought a la carte.

And as for whether the whole thing is an evil hoax?

"More's comin'. It's real. I've played it," Fredrick said.

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