TV Brands Aren't Always What They Seem
You might be surprised to find out who actually made your set
For many shoppers, there’s comfort in choosing a familiar brand. But before you buy a new TV, 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 the course of decades.
For example, RCA, an iconic TV brand, now appears on sets produced by Curtis International, a Canadian company. Sharp TVs? For the past several years they’ve been manufactured by the Chinese TV brand Hisense, but the brand recently changed hands again (see below).
The evolving 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, senior research director for consumer devices at Omdia, a market research firm. But then it became easier to source components, which in turn increased competition and lowered pricing and profits. “For some brands,” he says, “the TV business here in the States was not profitable anymore.”
What Does This Mean for You?
Consumer Reports has seen a wide range of quality in televisions carrying licensed brands. For instance, some Hisense-made Sharp sets have done well in our TV ratings—its higher-end sets even rival some of the top models from the dominant brands—while others didn’t do as well. Meanwhile, several RCA- and Westinghouse-branded sets are near the bottom of the list.
One area where many of these licensed TV brands fall short is in HDR performance, which can present brighter, more vivid images with greater contrast and a wider array of colors, much closer to what we see in real life. We’ve also found that many also deliver less-than-compelling sound compared with sets from the major brands.
|Amazon||In 2021, Amazon launched its first two series of Amazon Fire TV Edition televisions under its own brand. Previously, they’d been available from a few TV brands, including Insignia, Pioneer, Toshiba, and Westinghouse, in the U.S. market. The sets are sold exclusively through Amazon’s website and at Best Buy stores.|
|Insignia||Insignia is Best Buy’s value-oriented house brand for consumer electronics products, including televisions. Insignia, with TVs made under contract by several TV manufacturers, is one of the few TV brands that offer both Amazon Fire TV and Roku smart TV platforms.|
|JVC||The JVC TV brand was licensed to the Taiwan manufacturer AmTran until 2018, when that license was acquired by Shenzhen MTC, a Chinese TV company. The TVs are marketed here in the U.S. by JMC, a company based in Irvine, Calif. JVC is among several brands that sell smart TVs using the Roku TV platform.|
|Magnavox||Once a U.S. TV 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), and Sanyo brand names. As a historical footnote, Funai was the last remaining company to make VCRs; it stopped producing them in 2016.|
|Onn||Onn is a Walmart private-label house brand for a variety of electronic products, including TVs and soundbars. Walmart doesn’t disclose which companies are making the products, but if you look through its TV manual, you’ll see that warranties are the responsibility of “Element TV Company,” the same company that handles Element TVs, and a company that assembles televisions in South Carolina.|
|Philips||The Philips brand in the U.S. is licensed to Funai, a Japanese company, via a subsidiary called P&F USA. A multiyear licensing deal—which also includes the Magnavox name—was renewed in 2018, though the company declined to disclose for exactly how long.|
|Pioneer||Pioneer, with its Kuro plasma TV line, was once lauded as making the best TVs you could buy. But the company exited the TV market in 2010 and sold its home electronics division to Onkyo in 2014. Voxx International acquired Onkyo’s assets last year and reached a licensing deal for the Pioneer and Pioneer Elite brands, but the deal didn’t include TVs. Instead, our research indicates that Compal Electronics, a Taiwanese manufacturer, now has the license for Pioneer TVs in the U.S. It previously held the license to the Toshiba TV brand—until Hisense bought Toshiba in 2017.|
|Polaroid||The once-venerable Polaroid name has gone though many changes since the original Polaroid company declared bankruptcy in 2001. After reorganizing, the Polaroid brand was licensed and then sold to Petters Group Worldwide in 2005, which itself went under three years later after an FBI investigation found the company was being run as a 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. Polaroid had a TV licensing deal with Makena Electronics, but the company says Polaroid’s licensing deal in the U.S. has expired, and at present, Polaroid is not licensing TVs for the U.S. market.|
|ProScan||ProScan was once the premium TV sub-brand of RCA; now both brands are owned and controlled by Technicolor, which created the color film process that was widely used by Hollywood until the mid-1950s. The ProScan brand is currently licensed in North America by Curtis International, an Ontario, Canada, a manufacturer and distributor of lower-priced electronic goods. Curtis also licenses the RCA and Sylvania brands.|
|Quasar||Ask your grandfather about the Quasar name and he may 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, Panasonic reregistered it. For a while we saw a few Quasar TVs as low-cost alternatives in outlets such as BrandsMart and Walmart, but Quasar TVs are currently unavailable.|
|RCA||One of the most significant consumer electronics brands in American history (the original company helped develop the NTSC standards for color televisions), RCA is now owned by Technicolor. Over the past decade, the trademark, which stood for Radio Corporation of America, has gone through several TV licensees, including TCL and then, more recently, On Corporation, a Korean TV manufacturer. The RCA brand in the U.S. is now licensed by Curtis International, which also licenses the ProScan and Sylvania labels.|
|Sanyo||Several years ago, Panasonic—another high-profile brand that has exited the U.S. TV market—agreed to license the Sanyo TV brand to Funai. Today, Sanyo TVs seem to turn up mostly in Walmart stores, acting almost as a private-label brand for the retailer.|
|Sharp||No company did more to develop and commercialize LCD TV technology than Japan’s Sharp Corp. But in 2015 it yielded to market pressures here in the U.S. and licensed its brand to Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense, which also purchased Sharp’s TV plant in Mexico. Subsequently, a majority share of Sharp was bought by Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn, which reclaimed the rights to the Sharp brand from Hisense in 2019. The company recently announced a return to the U.S. TV market in 2022.|
|Toshiba||Joining 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 in 2015, licensing its brand to Taiwanese manufacturer Compal. Then, in November 2017, Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense purchased the Toshiba TV business. Toshiba USA acts as a separate entity from Hisense, with its own product management, sales, and marketing teams. Like Insignia, Toshiba makes both Amazon Fire and Roku smart TVs.|
|Westinghouse||Another historic U.S. electronics name, the Westinghouse TV brand is controlled by ViacomCBS, which currently licenses it to TongFang, a Chinese company that has a facility in California. It acquired the rights to sell TVs under that brand following the dissolution of the prior licensee, Westinghouse Digital. Westinghouse sets are typically inexpensive compared with the competition.|
Editor’s Note: This article is updated periodically as TV brand relationships evolve.