The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is in talks with cable television operators to use an Apple TV device as a set-top-box. Instead of Apple building their own TV show database to compete with the cable operators – as Apple has discussed with show creators in the past – this approach would simply plug cable operators to televisions via an Apple device.

The report says that Apple’s plans with cable TV networks aren’t necessarily for the current Apple TV $99 box. The plans could be for a future version of Apple’s current device, or for the much-rumored Apple Television set.

Two people briefed on the matter said the technology involved could ultimately be embedded in a television. Apple has worked on prototypes for televisions in the past, according to people briefed on the projects.

Additionally, the report says that Apple has not yet come to any agreements with any cable TV operators.

Before launching the latest design of the Apple TV, Apple considered building the set-top-box service described in this new report. However, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dismissed the idea.

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—each served only defined geographic territories. Another issue: entertainment companies own most of the content, not the operators, according to two people familiar with the meetings.

Notably, just earlier this week, a newly filed patent application showed how Apple could interface provided cable TV network shows through an Apple TV/set-top-box like device. (Patent image: Patently Apple)

Update: Bloomberg has chimed in reporting much the same as the WSJ.