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RCA, the iconic company that — more than any other — brought color television to the consumer mass market was dissolved years ago. But its brand has survived and sometimes prospered. The brand is owned and licensed by Technicolor. After some mis-steps in years past, Technicolor is now managing the brand in an intelligent and unusually hands-on fashion.

For the last four years, the brand has been licensed to the ON Corporation of Seongnam, Korea, which will continue to manufacture RCA TV sets for the U.S. and some other markets until at least 2020. ON has the license for TV production and distribution only, with other companies having the licenses for “video tablets,” telephones, and accessories. However, an indication of the way Technicolor is managing the brand could be seen in the RCA booth, which combined ON Corp’s RCA TVs, Digital Stream’s mobile RCA TVs, and Telefield’s RCA business telephones. If you didn’t know better, you might think that RCA still existed as a company.

ON Corp US positions its TV models on the value end of the spectrum, but not at the bottom of it. The sets don’t look cheap, and the design of the higher-end sets, with ultra-thin bezels, is attractive. RCA is entering the 4Kx2K (or Ultra HD) TV market this year with three screen sizes: 55, 65, and 84 inches. These sets have LED backlights and smart TV functions. The Android (formerly Google) TV platform built into each of the sets provides an integrated on-screen interface with access to cable/satellite TV, apps and online content, including more than 100,000 on-demand movies and TV episodes, and thousands of YouTube channels. The UHD-TV sets all have a native 4K resolution of 3840 x 2160.

xRCA 65_4k_

The RCA 65-inch UHD-TV with smart functions provided by the Google TV platform. The set was described as having a “curved design,” which refers the the curved bar of the base, not to the screen being curved rather than flat. (Photo: ON Corp)

“Our first Ultra HD TVs are priced very competitively because we anticipate 2014 to be a pivotal year for this new class of TVs as more consumers become exposed to the striking picture quality that is possible with virtually any source material,” said Jonathan Zupnik, ON Corp US Executive VP of Marketing.

Smart features include the Google Chrome web browser; Google’s PrimeTime guide, which permits browsing channels while streaming or watching live TV and recommends shows based on personal preferences; Google TV Search for quickly finding shows by title, channel name, actor, or genre; and voice search.

RCA says the higher-end sets have a “curved design,” but that refers to the curved-bar base, not to the screen. Zupnik said he did not anticipate people might think RCA was referring to a curved screen. Indeed, all of the RCA models have flat, rather than curved, screens. Zupnik said that ON Corp has built curved-screen sets but decided not to make them part of the U.S. line-up or to show them at CES. “I’m very cautious about curved screens,” Zupnik said.

The less expensive tier of RCA sets are HDTV rather than UHD-TV, and implement their smart TV features with a Roku Streaming Stick, which provides access to over a thousand entertainment channels. Some of the sets simply provide an exposed MHL port into which the Roku stick is inserted, but some come with the stick already installed in an MHL port that is concealed behind a simple screw-on panel. Screen sizes for the HDTV line-up run from 28 to 65 inches.

RCA is doing well, said Zupnik, with sales up over 20% in the last year. For an old RCA hand such as yours truly, it’s good to see the old brand prosper. This is surely not what General Sarnoff had in mind for his legacy, but it’s not nothin’ either.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications. You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

Posted by Ken Werner, January 22, 2014 7:52 PM

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About Ken Werner

Kenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.