The best streaming TVs and gadgets for college students

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Dear students, you can do better than watching movies on your laptop in bed. If you really want to immerse yourself in a movie (or a game, or a TV show), nothing beats a large TV. And it turns out you don’t have to invest thousands of dollars to get started with a decent dorm entertainment system. LCD TVs and streaming devices are cheaper than ever. So save this notepad for your homework – think about these inexpensive ways to improve your movie watching experience.

TVs for small spaces

43-inch Roku TCL 4 TV

Will Lipman Photography / TCL

A Roku TV is one of the easiest ways to start streaming movies and TV shows, making them ideal for most college students. This TCL 4-series model sports a 4K display (with scaling from low-resolution sources) and HDR, for better dynamic range. But best of all, you can usually find it for around $ 300. It’s not the most feature-rich TCL Roku TV (the Series 5 costs around $ 100 more and adds Dolby Vision), but it’s one of the better options for the price. And at 43 inches, it’s small enough to fit in most dorm rooms, while still providing enough screen space to immerse yourself in a movie.

Buy a 42-inch TCL Series 4 Roku TV on Amazon – $ 348

32 inch Vizio D series

Vizio 32

Will Lipman Photography / Vizio

The “D” in Vizio’s D series sets might as well stand for “dirty cheap”. But this 32-inch model is still pretty impressive for the price. It has full-array LED backlighting, Vizio’s streaming channels, and supports Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay. Plus, judging by the reviews, it doesn’t look too bad either, although it’s limited to a resolution of 1366 by 768. It’s a solid option for very small spaces.

Buy a 32-inch Vizio D-Series Smart TV from Best Buy – $ 219

Bigger and better TVs

50 inch Vizio M-Series Quantum

Vizio 50

Will Lipman Photography / Vizio

If you want a 50-inch display that looks fantastic, but doesn’t break the bank, it’s hard to beat Vizio’s M-series Quantum sets. They are infused with quantum dots, for more robust color reproduction; they offer full matrix backlighting, for better contrast and black levels; and they’re equipped with AMD’s FreeSync technology to make gaming smoother. The M series also includes Dolby Vision HDR and support for Chromecast and AirPlay 2, so you can stream videos from most smartphones. With thin bezels on three sides, the M series also looks a lot more upscale than other budget TVs.

Buy the 50-inch Vizio M-Series from Best Buy – $ 429

50 inch Samsung Class Crystal

Samsung 50

Samsung

Another solid option for a larger package, Samsung’s Class Crystal TVs feature the company’s Crystal 4K processor, which aims to deliver solid picture quality at an affordable price. It doesn’t have Dolby Vision or quantum dots, so in general we would recommend the Vizio M series over this model. But, Samsung’s hardware looks a bit prettier, so it may be a better option if you prioritize aesthetics over function.

Buy a 50-inch Samsung-class Crystal TV from Best Buy – $ 479

Must-have streaming accessories

Chromecast with Google TV

The Google Chromecast with Google TV guide for the 2021 start of the school year from Engadget.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you are a heavy Google user, there is no better streaming device than the Chromecast with Google TV. Unlike previous versions of Google’s puck, it has its own interface, as well as a suite of streaming apps to choose from. And yes, you can still stream videos from Android devices or the Chrome browser. The Chromecast is a great option if you’re buying a cheaper TV, but be sure to check if your TV already has Chromecast streaming built-in.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Best Buy – $ 50

Roku Streaming Stick +

The Roku Streaming Stick + for Engadget's Back to School 2021 guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you already have an older TV or just want something a little more zippered than the onboard apps in your bundle, Roku’s Streaming Stick + is worth buying. It costs just $ 50 (and often less), supports 4K / HDR, and gives you access to Roku’s entire app library. Best of all, it’s so small that you can easily take it with you when traveling. The Streaming Stick + also supports Apple AirPlay, allowing you to stream videos from iOS devices and Macs. The voice remote control provided by Roku also makes it easy to find things to look at without pecking at a keyboard.

Buy Roku Streaming Stick + on Amazon – $ 50

Roku stream bar

Roku Streambar for the Engadget 2021 back-to-school guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The Streambar is an unusual device. It’s both a decent soundbar and a multimedia broadcasting box. It’s so Roku. Honestly, if you get a TV you should really consider some sort of sound bar (we have a whole guide dedicated to that). But here we recommend the Streambar because it is a relatively simple and inexpensive solution that solves two common problems: getting streaming apps and better sound. It’s also a good thing to have around you to play some music when you’re not watching anything. (For even more powerful sound, consider the slightly more expensive Streambar Pro.)

Buy Roku Streambar on Amazon – $ 129

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