Apple TV set on the way? Maybe, but don't hold your breath.

An Apple TV set is in an 'early stage of testing,' according to a new report. But there are no guarantees the device will ever see the light of day. 

Apple employees wait for customers outside an Apple Store in Shanghai. Apple is testing a television set, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Apple is in the "early stages" of testing a new television set, The Wall Street Journal is reporting. 

In a lengthy article published today (subscription only), Journal reporters Lorraine Luk and Jessica Lessin write that Apple is working with manufacturers Sharp and Hon Hai to produce a prototype for a flatscreen, HD television set. This syncs up with previous whispers of talks between TV component makers and Apple, and with the mention in the recent Steve Jobs biography of an "integrated television set." 

So when will the Apple television set finally hit shelves? 2014 or 2015, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has speculated. Then again, the Apple television set might not arrive at all – ever. Consider that The Wall Street Journal report, which is sourced to anonymous folks in the Apple supply chain, is only the latest in a long and illustrious list of Apple television set rumors dating all the way back to 2009

Moreover, even The Wall Street Journal piece is full of caveats, like this one: "Apple could opt not to proceed with the device and how a large-screen TV fits with its overall strategy for remaking watching TV remains unclear. Apple has also been talking to cable television operators about building a box that would carry live television, according to people familiar with the matter." In other words, yes, maybe there will be a TV set, and maybe it'll just be a box. 

A box – just like the current Apple TV

Which brings us to Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who is less than impressed with the latest installation in the Apple television set soap opera. 

"We're back where we were last December – or, for that matter, in December 2010, when the Journal ran the first of its pre-Christmas Apple TV stories," he writes. "We're sticking with the theory we favored a year ago: That Apple's solution to the TV problem may already be here, hiding in plain sight." 

That theory was pretty simple: Instead of building a new product from scratch, Mr. Elmer-DeWitt argued, Apple was far more likely to improve its Apple TV set-top box.

Do you agree? Drop us a line in the comments section. 

And for more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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