Hello, Tosh, got a Toshiba? Actually, you may never know for sure, because even if you fell for that memorable sales pitch and bought a TV with Toshiba’s name on it, there’s no guarantee they actually made it.
In common with many manufacturers these days, Toshiba licenses out its logo to third-party companies, who then produce sets under the same brand name. Hitachi performed a similar trick five years ago, outsourcing its TV manufacturing to other companies.
That doesn’t mean either brand is necessarily less good than it was, but it does speak to the transient nature of brand names today: commodities that can be sold and passed on as market conditions dictate.
Polaroid is a case in point: once among the world’s most recognisable and innovative companies, its name is now to be found on Asda’s decent but cheap range of own-brand TVs and electronics.
Down the road at Argos, the name Qualcast, once a traditional British lawn mower firm and now owned by Bosch in Germany, is stuck onto own-brand products made by neither company. Argos also owns the Bush and Alba brands, both now linked so inextricably to the catalogue shop that many buyers have forgotten that they, too, were once original British manufacturers.
So, which firms still make their own products, and specifically, TV sets? Intense competition and shrinking margins have forced the industry to contract to such an extent that only the most visible brands, Samsung, Sony and LG among them, retain exclusive control of their own production lines. A few premium names such as Bang & Olufsen also produce all their own sets, but they tend to price themselves out of the mass market.
The phenomenon of making TV sets for different brands is hardly new: until the 1970s a large factory in Bradford turned out identical models with different badges for competing high street rental shops, all owned by the same parent. Today, the production lines have moved to China, Turkey and Slovakia.
It explains why Blaupunkt televisions have suddenly started to appear on the shelves of retailers who would like you to believe that they share the same German provenance as the car audio units bearing that name. In fact, they come from a Slovakian company which also makes televisions with Akai, Alba, Bush, Goodmans, Sharp, Technika and Tevion badges. They are not all made to the same standards, though: the brand owners will dictate the specifications they want, and set the prices accordingly.
So, if brand familiarity is no longer a reliable guide to buying, what should you look for instead? First, choose a “full HD” model with a Freeview HD tuner and check there are enough ports on the back too accommodate all the set-top boxes you want to connect.
Don’t pay a heavy premium for a Smart TV - you can get the same or better functionality from a £30 Chromecast or similar streaming stick plugged into the back. And don’t be confused by inconsistent use of the terms LED and LCD to describe the screen: the truth is, nearly all mainstream models now have LED panels, lit from either the back or the edges. Which arrangement is better depends how well the set in question has been made, so insist on a demonstration, and study the picture on your new TV - not the name beneath it - before you take it home.