TV Brands Aren't Always What They Seem

You might be surprised to find out who actually made your set

Hand holding remote pointing to white TV screen Photo: Getty Images

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 a 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, and the brand is about to change hands again (see below).

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

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“For many years, TV making was limited to the few large consumer-electronics companies that could afford the investment,” says Paul Gagnon, executive director for consumer devices at market research firm Omdia. But then it became easier to source components, which in turn decreased profits. “For some brands, the TV business was not profitable anymore."

Companies, including Magnavox/Philips, JVC, and Toshiba, exited the U.S. market, licensing their brands to companies in China, Taiwan, and other countries looking to breaking into the U.S. market.

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—though none rival the top models—while others scored poorly. And several RCA- and Westinghouse-branded sets are near the bottom of the list.

More on TVs

No matter what kind of TV you buy, it's smart to use a credit card that doubles the manufacturer’s warranty. Retailers like Costco grant you the same cushion. This is particularly important with licensed brands, because the manufacturers' warranty periods may be shorter than what the major brands provide. And it might be tough to get a licensed-brand set serviced, especially if it requires parts from overseas.

You can also ask retailers for a 30-day guarantee that allows you to return a TV if you’re unhappy with the picture quality, even if that goes past their normal return window.

Here we list licensed TV brands and who actually makes their sets.

(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.)

InsigniaInsignia is Best Buy's value-oriented house brand for consumer electronics products, including televisions. Insignia TVs, which are made under contract by several TV manufacturers, are one of the few TV brands that offer both Amazon Fire TV and Roku smart TV platforms.
JVCThe 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 the brands that sell smart TVs using the Roku TV platform.
MagnavoxOnce 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, which it stopped producing in 2016.
OnnOnn is a Walmart private-label house brand for a variety of electronic products, including TVs and sound bar speakers. Walmart doesn't disclose what companies are making the products, but if you look through the manual for TVs it says that warranties are the responsibility of "Element TV Company," the same as for Element TVs, a company that assembles televisions in its South Carolina facilities.
PhilipsThe Philips brand in the U.S. is licensed to Funai 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.
PolaroidThe 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. The current U.S. licensee is Makena Electronics, a Chinese electronics company. Makena's U.S. office is Empire Electronics, a California-based sales and marketing company.
ProScanProScan 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 electronics goods. Curtis also licenses the RCA and Sylvania brands.
QuasarAsk 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 re-registered 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.
RCAOne 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.
SanyoSeveral years ago, Panasonic—another high-profile brand that's 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.
SharpNo company did more to develop and commercialize LCD TV technology than Japan's Sharp Corporation. 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 its 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. So far it hasn't announced it re-entry into the U.S. TV market.
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 in 2015, licensing its brand to Taiwanese manufacturer Compal. Then, in November 2017, Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense purchased the Toshiba TV business. Hisense, which sells TVs under its own brand, had until recently also licensed the Sharp brand for TVs. Like Insignia, Toshiba makes both Amazon Fire and Roku smart TVs.
WestinghouseAnother 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 to the competition.

Editor’s Note: This article is updated periodically as TV brand relationships evolve.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.