For many shoppers, there's comfort in choosing a familiar brand. But before you go out and buy a new TV set, there's something you should know: Even if a TV carries a brand name you recognize, that model might have little connection to the company that built that brand over a course of decades.

For example, RCA, an iconic TV brand, now appears on sets produced by a Korean firm named On Corporation. Sharp TVs? They're manufactured by the Chinese TV brand Hisense, which also bought Sharp's TV manufacturing plant in Mexico.

The changing economics of manufacturing is one reason for such shifts.

"For many years, TV making was limited to the few large consumer-electronics companies that could afford the investment," says Paul Gagnon, who monitors TV manufacturing for San Diego-based IHS Markit Research.

But then it became easier to source components, which in turn decreased the margins, creating a landscape far too competitive for some of the industry's titans. "For some brands, the TV business was not profitable anymore," Gagnon says.

Companies such as Sharp, JVC, and Toshiba exited the U.S. market, licensing their brands to lesser-known firms. Companies in China, Taiwan, and other countries eagerly adopted those brands, hoping their products would benefit from instant recognition and credibility in the U.S.

What Does This Mean for Consumers?

Just because a TV carries a licensed brand, it doesn't mean it's going to perform poorly. But it's hard to predict how well it will do in our testing.

"Some companies choose to license their brands to manufacturers, mostly from China, who then build the products based on their own technology," Gagnon explains. "This isn’t always the case, though. In some instances, the licensing brands still have a lot of input into the design of the product and performance requirements as a part of the agreement."

Consumer Reports has seen wide variability in quality among licensed brands. For instance, some Hisense-made Sharp sets did well—though none yet rivals the top models in our ratings—while others didn't fare as well. And some RCA- and Westinghouse-branded sets have scored poorly.

To protect yourself, purchase the new TV with a credit card that doubles the manufacturer's warranty. Retailers including Costco grant you the same cushion. This will safeguard you if the TV stops working or needs repair.

You can also ask retailers for a 30-day guarantee that allows you to return the TV if you're unhappy with the picture quality. Keep in mind that it might be more difficult to get such TVs serviced, especially if they require parts from overseas.

As you might imagine, it's not always easy to find reviews and information on licensed-brand models. Your best option is to consult our ratings.

So which company made the set you're thinking about buying? 

Here are the corporations behind the licensed brands.

(If you’re reading this article on your smartphone, we recommend that you rotate the device to landscape mode to better view the table below.)

Brand

Details

Element

Element first came to our attention during Walmart promotional events. The manufacturer earned some press a few years back for touting that its TVs were assembled here in the U.S., first in Detroit, now in South Carolina, though much of the parts production is done in China. The company is now owned by Chinese manufacturer Tongfang, which also owns the Seiki and Westinghouse TV brands.

JVC

Since late in 2011, the JVC TV brand has been licensed to the Taiwan manufacturer AmTRAN. The company's U.S. arm, AmTRAN Video, also produces TVs sold under the popular Vizio brand.

MagnavoxOnce a U.S. market leader, the Philips-owned Magnavox brand is now licensed by Funai Electric. The Japanese manufacturer also controls the U.S. licenses for the Emerson, Philips (see below), Sylvania, Sanyo, and Symphonic brand names. Funai recently created a stir by announcing it would stop producing VCRs. It goes down in history as the last company to make them.
PhilipsThis one's licensed to Funai via a subsidiary called P&F USA. The deal, which also includes the Magnavox name, runs through the end of 2018.
Polaroid

The once-venerable Polaroid name has become something of a cautionary licensing tale, at least as it pertains to TVs. In 2001, the genuine Polaroid declared bankruptcy but reorganized and licensed its brand to the Petters Group Worldwide, which bought the name outright in 2005. But the Petters Group filed for bankruptcy protection three years later, after an FBI investigation concluded the company was being run as a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. In 2009, a group of investors snapped up the Polaroid brand and launched a company called PLR IP Holdings, which now administers the licenses. The current U.S. licensee is Empire Electronics.

ProScanOnce the premium sub-brand of RCA TVs, the ProScan name is owned by Technicolor, which controls RCA as well. The brand is currently licensed in North America by Curtis International, an Ontario, Canada, manufacturer and distributor of value-based consumer electronics products.
Quasar

Ask your grandfather about the Quasar name and he'll probably remember it fondly. This TV brand launched by Motorola was acquired by Matsushita (the parent company of Panasonic) in the '70s, but the little-used trademark expired in 2007. About three years ago, though, Panasonic re-registered it. And now, Quasar TVs can be found in a few retail outlets, including B&H Photo and BrandsMart.

RCA

One of the most significant consumer electronics brands in American history (the original company helped develop the NTSC standards for color televisions) is today owned by Technicolor. Over the past decade, the trademark, which stood for Radio Corporation of America, has gone through several TV licensees, including TCL a few years ago, and then On Corporation, a Korean TV manufacturer. The RCA brand in the U.S. is now licensed by Curtis International.

SanyoTwo years ago, Panasonic agreed to license the Sanyo TV brand to Funai Electric. Today, Sanyo TVs seem to turn up mostly in Walmart stores, almost as a private label for the retailer.
Seiki

Seiki, which gained some prominence in the U.S. by offering early 4K TV sets at very low prices, is another TV brand controlled by Tongfang. (See Element and Westinghouse.)

SharpNo company did more to develop and commercialize LCD TV technology than Japan's Sharp Corporation. Despite owning one of the most advanced LCD plants in the world, the company yielded to market pressures here in the U.S. and decided last year to license its brand to Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense.
ToshibaJoining the growing list of Japanese TV manufacturers that have found the U.S. market too competitive, Toshiba pulled the plug on its U.S. TV business last year, licensing its brand to Taiwanese manufacturer Compal.
Westinghouse

The Westinghouse TV brand, still controlled by a CBS subsidiary called Westinghouse Electric Corporation, is now part of Tongfang's growing portfolio of TV brand names. The Chinese electronics manufacturer sells those Westinghouse-brand TVs through a subsidiary called Westinghouse Electronics. It acquired the rights to do that following the dissolution of prior licensee Westinghouse Digital.

Editor's Note: This article was updated with information on where some companies are headquartered.