Sharp's announcement last week that it would exit the U.S. television business, licensing its brand name to Chinese TV maker Hisense, wasn't exactly shocking, given the very public financial difficulties it's recently experienced. But what does that mean for those of us who already own a Sharp TV, or who plan to buy one this year before the hand-off to Hisense is finalized?

In the short term not very much, as the switch won't happen until January of next year. Sharp has pledged to continue to support the TVs it's sold with parts and service for several years. So if you already own a Sharp TV, you should continue to contact Sharp for any service-related questions. And the Sharp TVs you buy this year will be made by Sharp. In a statement sent to Consumer Reports, the company said that it would continue to provide both in- and out-of-warranty service, as well as parts, for all Sharp-made TVs for years to come.  

But starting next year Sharp-branded sets will be made by Hisense, which will presumably take over parts- and service-related issues on these TVs. As part of the deal, Hisense bought Sharp's TV manufacturing plant in Mexico, where many of the sets will likely be made. Hisense also acquired the Sharp Aquos sub-brand, as well as the Quattron name for the technology it uses that includes an extra yellow sub-pixel.

The other question, of course, is how good the new Sharp-branded TVs will be when Hisense takes over the name. We don't currently have any Hisense TVs in our Ratings, but we have tested these sets over the past few years, and most have been so-so performers, rarely rising above the bottom half of the Ratings for TVs at their screen size.

What do you think about Sharp leaving the U.S. TV business and licensing its brand name to Hisense? Let us know in the comments section, below.

But like some other Chinese brands, including TCL, Hisense has ambitious plans for growing its market share in the U.S., something it thinks the Sharp brand will help it accomplish. At CES this past January, the company showed off 4K TVs with higher brightness and quantum-dot-based wider color gamuts, OLED TVs, and even a laser-based short-throw front projector that can produce a 100-inch image from an 18-inch distance. Like TCL, Hisense was one of the early adopters of the Roku smart TV platform, building that company's online interface into a line of Roku TVs. TCL, you may remember, gained its entry in the U.S. by licensing the RCA brand, though it's now building its own brand here and elsewhere.

A decade ago, Sharp was one of the leading LCD TV brands worldwide, but in recent years it's seen it fortunes fade as brands such as Samsung, LG, and Vizio have surpassed it in market share. Sharp is credited with helping to invent LCD technology—indeed, the first LCD TV I ever saw was in a Sharp panel manufacturing plant two decades ago. The company's 10th-generation plant is still considered one of the industry's most advanced, and supplies larger-sized panels to other TV manufacturers.

Last year, Sharp actually licensed its name to Best Buy for a series of lower-priced TVs that didn't include the Aquos sub-brand. At the time, we wondered whether this was the first step in a move to exit the U.S. market, and instead fully license its brand in the U.S. "Sharp has not been able to fully adapt to the intensifying market competition, which led to significantly lower profits compared to the initial projections for the previous fiscal year, and has been suffering from poor earnings performance," Sharp said in a statement explaining its decision to leave the U.S. TV market.

The last few years haven't been kind to Japanese TV makers in general; Sharp is just the latest of a string of formerly powerful companies that have decided to pull out of the U.S. market. Hitachi no longer sells TVs in this country, and the JVC brand is now controlled by Amtran, a Taiwanese company. Mitsubishi and Pioneer both stopped selling selling TVs, and early this year Toshiba pulled the plug on its U.S. TV business. Panasonic stopped selling the plasma TVs it was best known for, and many question if it will remain in the TV market here selling LED LCD TV sets. Fujitsu and NEC exited the TV business in the States years ago.

If you have fond memories of Sharp TVs, let us know how you feel about the decision in the comments section below. We'd also like to know if you'd consider buying one of the new Hisense-made Sharp TVs when they become available next year.

—James K. Willcox

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