We’ve known for some time now that Intel is working on a streaming set-top box but we are now hearing that it’s being tested exclusively by more than 2,000 Intel employees in the wild. These prototype units will be vastly different on the hardware side of things compared to what the chip maker will launch later this year, however.

Black Box Project test units are reportedly being doled out to employees in Arizona, Northern California and Oregon according to people familiar with the subject. The software used on these in-home units is an outdated version of the user interface although it will share many similarities with the final version such as the look and feel as well as navigation features.

The hardware, on the other hand, will be totally different. Sources also say that the content available on the box is not representative in any way, shape or form of what will eventually be available at launch.

It’s clear based on this trial run alone that Intel is serious about the set-top market. A successful “beta” test could give the chip maker all sorts of useful metrics like usage habits, logistics, quality and stability of the product and how the back-end will handle heavy loads.

Even with the hardware and software in place, Intel will still need to lock up some key content deals if they plan to be successful – something that’s reportedly eluded Apple for years. Does Intel have the pull to make it happen?