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TV brands like RCA and Westinghouse aren't always what they seem

Consumer Reports News: November 06, 2012 08:08 AM

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Based on past experiences and what we've already seen leaked so far this year, secondary brands will play a big part in some retailers' plans for Black Friday TV specials. But we've also noticed several TVs that carry better-known, if not major, brands entering into the mix.

We've already written about cheaper, lesser-known TV brands not always being a great deal. But one thing to remember as you shop this year is that even if a TV carries a brand you know, it may have little connection to the original company that built that brand. In these cases, the brand is simply being licensed by a company you may never heard of, in the hope that their products will enjoy greater name recognition and credibility with potential buyers.

For example, for the past few years the RCA TV brand was licensed by TCL, a Chinese manufacturer with a U.S. headquarters in California. But TCL is now focused on building its own brand here in the U.S., and we currently have a few TCL TVs in our TV Ratings. So the RCA TV brand is currently controlled and used in the U.S. by ON Corporation, a global consumer electronics distributor.

In the U.S., the Magnavox and Philips TV brands are controlled by Funai, a Japanese company that also includes Emerson, Sylvania, and Symphonic among its licensed brands.

Westinghouse-brand TVs may also sound familiar, but they are manufactured and distributed by Westinghouse Digital, a value-oriented company which licensed the brand from a CBS subsidiary called Westinghouse Electric Corporation. (The original Westinghouse your father may remember was subsumed within CBS, which it acquired in the mid-1990s.) Westinghouse Digital is a completely different company, based in California.

Polaroid is another familiar brand that's gone through several changes. The "real" Polaroid declared bankruptcy in 2001, reorganized, and licensed its brand to the Petters Group Worldwide, which bought the rights in 2005. Petters filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008 after an FBI investigation discovered that the company was being run as a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. A group of investors (Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers) acquired the Polaroid brand in 2009, and launched a new company called PLR IP Holdings, which now administers the Polaroid licenses. We expect a new Polaroid TV license to be awarded shortly.

Just because a TV comes from a secondary or licensed brand doesn't mean it can't be a decent set or a good deal. But there probably won't be as much information about it, or as many reviews of it. And there's the possibility that you may have a harder time getting it repaired or serviced, or have to wait longer for a repair shop to obtain parts.

As we get closer to the Black Friday shopping period, we'll be monitoring ads to see the best deals being offered, from both major brands and lesser-known companies. If you decide to buy a TV from a lesser-known or licensed brand, let us know how well you're satisfied with your purchase.

Amazon's Black Friday TV deals may be mainly for secondary brands

James K. Willcox

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