There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about Apple releasing its own TV set. While several pundits and analysts are expecting a game-changer from the iPhone-makers, others don’t think the company has the experience to make it in the TV industry.

Apple’s been indirectly involved in the TV industry since 2006, when it unveiled the first edition of its Apple TV set top box. But, as you can see from the above photo, Apple’s been working on a way to invade our living rooms for over 15 years…

These are pics of a set top box prototype that Apple floated around to a few US cable carriers back in 1996. Dubbed the Pippen (yes, like the Apple Pippen—Apple’s video game console), the box had several inputs including coax cable and ethernet.

The images were taken by Rob Gould, who currently works on the AOL HD project:

“When it boots, you see the Mac OS Finder on your TV and the inits start loading on the bottom of the screen. It played video from MPEG1 streams at 1.544 mbps, which actually didn’t look bad at all in standard-def.”

Obviously the set top box never materialized, but it’s kind of cool to see that such a prototype existed all the way back in 1996. Not to mention, knowing that Apple’s been working on TV products for over 15 years makes us even more interested to see them release a full-fledged TV set.

[@randallb]