Speculation regarding the mythical Apple TV set has quieted down in recent weeks. Apple has long been rumored to be working on a full-blown television, but the product has yet to materialize.

According to a new report, that may be because Apple’s TV plans have changed direction. The Wall Street Journal is claiming it has learned that the company is now working on a cable box…

The WSJ reports:

“Apple Inc. is in talks with some of the biggest U.S. cable operators about letting consumers use an Apple device as a set-top box for live television and other content, according to people familiar with the matter.

The talks represent Apple’s most ambitious crack at infiltrating the living room after years of trying. Apple doesn’t appear to have reached a deal with any cable operators. One obstacle may be the reluctance of operators to let Apple establish a foothold in the television business.”

The set top box idea is actually rather interesting. As the article points out, the strategy would be very similar to the one Apple used to enter the cell phone market: convince existing service providers to marry their services with Apple’s hardware. And that worked out pretty well.

At this time, it’s not known whether the set top box is an iteration of the current Apple TV, or a new piece of hardware. But according to the author’s sources, Apple has been working on it for a long time:

“Apple contemplated building a cable set-top box more than two years ago before it launched the latest version of its Apple TV, according to a person familiar with the matter. At the time, Apple’s then CEO Steve Jobs was dismissive of the idea, believing working with cable operators was problematic because they didn’t have national reach…”

We’ve seen plenty of evidence of these efforts over the past few years. Just recently we saw a patent application that covered functions like cable TV input and DVR (Digital Video Recording). And don’t forget about this circa-1996 Pippen prototype that had a coax (cable) input and ethernet port.

The key here will be gaining cable provider support — which we all know is much easier said than done. We’ve already heard from a few studio heads that say they’ve turned down Apple’s streaming TV partnership queries due to their inability to agree on terms. So in other words, money.

But Apple’s executive team is known for its ability to negotiate, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one with my fingers crossed that this happens (the UX on my Comcast box is terrible). And who knows, maybe these efforts will eventually lead to some sort of Apple TV set. Baby steps.

What are your thoughts on an Apple-branded cable box? Would you buy one?