Infinium Labs' Phantom Gaming Service has come to life. The company has announced its long-promised Phantom Gaming Service will become available November 18, and it will give consoles free to subscribers who sign up for a two-year service.
The company is demonstrating the consoles at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week, after a planned beta test and original first-quarter 2004 launch were missed. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, the company showed a non-working version of the device, frustrating gamers who wanted to see it in action.
The Phantom hardware, a set-top box computer with a 40GB hard drive that can be attached to a television and a broadband connection, will be given away free to consumers who sign up for two years of the online gaming service. The basic subscription costs $29.95 a month and will include an initial batch of free games, with other downloadable games available to buy or rent.
Commitment-shy users can also buy the receiver for $199 and then have that price credited back to their account over two years if they remain a subscriber.
By comparison, Microsoft's Xbox Live service in the U.S. costs $69.99 for a start-up kit, including a 12-month subscription that is renewed annually for $49.99. The Xbox console itself is retailing for $149.99, having dropped from the November 2001 launch price of $299.
The Phantom receiver, which is made by Taiwan contract manufacturer Biostar Microtech International, has 256MB of main system memory, and is based on an Advanced Micro Devices Athlon XP 2500+ CPU, NVidia's GeForce FX 5700 Ultra GPU, and nForce 2 Ultra 400 platform processor. It will come bundled with a gamepad, a mouse, and a Phantom Lapboard that Infinium says makes it easy for users to play games designed for use with a keypad and mouse.
Downloaded games will be stored on the hard drive of the device and managed by the service itself. If the hard drive approaches capacity, the least-recently played games will be removed, but will be restreamed to the hard drive if the user tries to play them.
Jason Armitage, an IDC analyst, questions the wisdom of the business model when, he says, very little is known about the service.
"It's a bit chicken-and-egg with interactive services and free consoles. You need services, but you need to build a good base of installed consoles to give developers confidence to develop for it," he Armitage.
A 40GB hard drive suggests an expensive products to make, and give away for free, so "We'll have to see how much debt they're willing to take on," he adds.
Kevin Bachus, a founding member of Microsoft's Xbox team, joined Infinium in January. At the time, he said the service was still a prototype and that the company had to identify its target customers.