If upgrading Apple’s TV ambitions from “hobby” to “intense interest” was CEO Tim Cook’s way of clarifying his company’s plans, he didn’t help matters much.

Using those choice words in an NBC News interview last month may have worked wonders for intriguing consumers and confusing competitors, but exactly what kind of device is in the works at Apple HQ is less clear than ever.

Still, Cook’s coy characterization will likely be more than enough to make the so-called Apple TV or iTV loom large for the second consecutive year over the Consumer Electronics Show considering how focused the annual confab is on cutting-edge screens.

And yet Apple TV is such a mystery that it can’t even be definitively considered a screen. Reports arose this past summer suggesting the product was just a set-top box that would authenticate existing pay TV subscriptions. The device was described more like a new iteration of the actual Apple TV product, which has done OK by selling 5 million units to date worldwide, but is still a far cry from gamechanging products like the iPhone and iPad.

It seemed a humbling retreat from the previous year’s heady speculation that Apple was in negotiations with content companies to license their programming directly; CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves has publicly suggested those talks were futile. That left Apple to negotiate instead with distributors who may be willing to cede the hardware part of the pay TV business to a company with a far better track record creating compelling user experiences.

But Apple TV fever came roaring back in the waning months of the year as longtime Apple observer and Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster issued a fresh set of predictions that restored the bigscreen component of the product, complete with a price tag that could run up to $2,000.

Perhaps more tellingly, the Wall Street Journal cited sources that electronics firm Sharp was working with Apple on prototypes for an unspecified TV with specs that seemed an awful lot like what Apple TV has long been imagined to be.

Apple remains mum for now. Of course, with all the talk surrounding a product it has yet to acknowledge, the company may not be able to get a word in edgewise.

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