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Infinium unveils the Phantom - sort of

A new definition of "unveil" we weren't previously aware of, really.

US-based startup Infinium Labs has unveiled its forthcoming Phantom console in a video presentation on its website - but little new information is included, and details of software support or pricing remain unclear.

Indeed, even the specification of the device remains unclear - the company promises "up to" a 3.0ghz processor and 256mb RAM, along with "high-performance" NVIDIA graphics card and Intel motherboard - but what the actual specifications of the components will be is anybody's guess.

What the unveiling does confirm is that the device is going to be large - at least as big as the Xbox, and probably bigger given the reliance on off the shelf components - and will feature some upgradeable parts, with the ability to add additional storage (alongside the "100+ Gigabyte" hard drive - again a rather vague spec) or memory, and components such as DSL or Cable modems or wireless LAN devices.

It also confirms that the system will run a version of Microsoft Windows XP Embedded, so Microsoft will be receiving a nice royalty off each console sold. A custom dashboard application will be used to manage your downloaded games and interact with the Phantom online services, and sports the Windows XPe logo prominently.

So essentially, the Phantom is what cynics accused the Xbox of being from the outset, and what Microsoft has spent the past three years convincing us it isn't - namely a PC in a slightly curvy box (resembling nothing more than a portable air conditioning unit, in fact), running some custom OS software.

But where's the real information? Ahead of a launch later this year, with ordering expected to begin in October, we still know none of the important facts about the console. The claim of thousands of available games for launch remains unsubstantiated - we had originally assumed that Infinium would raid publisher back catalogues of PC software, but no publisher partnerships have been announced and we've heard of late that the company has been courting PC shareware game authors.

Rumours have also circulated that the company is hoping to get Doom III and Half-Life 2 onto the system - hardly a difficult task given that they're both PC games - which is a step in the right direction, but still doesn't constitute a major draw for the platform since the games will already be available for the PC and probably the Xbox by the time they appear on Phantom.

No pricing information, no publisher support details, no in-game footage, no real specifications, and not a single developer we know - shareware or otherwise - admits to working on the platform. As unveiling events go, not a lot has been unveiled at all.

Worst of all, we still can't really work out what market this is targeted at. The reliance on broadband rules out much of Europe, and despite popular beliefs to the contrary, broadband still isn't all that mass-market in the USA - although the situation is certainly improving rapidly. The hardcore, broadband-using market already have PCs; the less hardcore market (we note that parental controls are mooted as a key feature) may well baulk at the inevitably high price tag of the unit, which is almost certainly going to price itself out of the set-top box market (where it might have some hope of gaining a foothold).

We're now convinced that Phantom isn't vapourware - but unless Infinium has some very impressive hidden cards to play, the prospects for the device don't look bright.

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