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The best budget TVs and streaming gadgets for students

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Listen up, students: You can do better than watching movies on your laptop in bed. If you want to truly be immersed in a film (or game, or TV show), nothing beats a large TV. And it turns out, you don’t have to invest thousands to get started with a decent dorm entertainment system. LCD sets and streaming devices are cheaper than ever. So save that notebook for schoolwork — consider these inexpensive ways to upgrade your movie watching experience.

TVs for smaller spaces

43-inch TCL 4 Series Roku TV

Will Lipman Photography / TCL

A Roku TV is one of the easiest ways to just start streaming movies and TV, making them ideal for most students. This 4-series TCL model sports a 4K screen (with upscaling from lower-res 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-packed TCL Roku TV (the 5-series costs around $100 more and adds Dolby Vision), but it’s one of the best options around for its price. And at 43 inches, it’s small enough to fit in most dorm rooms, while still offering enough screen space to immerse you in a film.

Buy 42-inch TCL 4 Series Roku TV at 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 “dirt cheap.” But this 32-inch model is still pretty impressive for the price. It has full-array LED backlighting, Vizio’s streaming channels, and it supports Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay. Plus, judging from the reviews, it doesn’t look too bad either, even if it is limited to a 1,366 x 768 resolution. It’s a solid option for very small spaces.

Buy 32-inch Vizio D-series smart TV at 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 screen that looks fantastic but doesn’t break the bank, it’s hard to do better than Vizio’s M-Series Quantum sets. They’re infused with quantum dots, for more robust color reproduction; they offer full-array backlighting, for better contrast and black levels; and they’re equipped with AMD’s FreeSync technology to smooth out gameplay. The M-series also features Dolby Vision HDR and support for Chromecast and AirPlay 2, so you can cast video from most smartphones. With slim bezels along three sides, the M-series also looks far more premium than other cheap TVs.

Buy 50-inch Vizio M-series at Best Buy – $429

50-inch Samsung Class Crystal

Samsung	50

Samsung

Another solid option for a larger set, Samsung’s Class Crystal TVs feature the company’s Crystal 4K processor, which is focused on delivering solid image quality at a budget price. It doesn’t have Dolby Vision or quantum dots, so in general we’d recommend the Vizio M-series over this model. But, Samsung’s hardware does look a bit nicer, so it may be a better option if you value form over function.

Buy 50-inch Samsung Class Crystal TV at Best Buy – $479

Must-have streaming accessories

Chromecast with Google TV

The Google Chromecast with Google TV for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you’re a heavy Google user, there’s no better streaming device than the Chromecast with Google TV. Unlike previous versions of Google’s puck, it has an interface of its own, along with a suite of streaming apps to choose from. And yes, you can still cast video 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 set 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 2021 Back to School guide.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you own an older TV, or you just want something a bit zippier than your set’s onboard apps, Roku’s Streaming Stick+ is worth snapping up. It’s just $50 (and often less), supports 4K/HDR, and it gives you access to Roku’s entire app library. Best of all, though, it’s so tiny you can easily bring it along when you’re traveling. The Streaming Stick+ also supports Apple AirPlay, giving you a way to cast video from iOS devices and Macs. Roku’s bundled voice remote also makes it easy to search for things to watch without pecking away at a keyboard.

Buy Roku Streaming Stick+ at Amazon – $50

Roku Streambar

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 media streaming box. That’s just so Roku. Honestly, if you’re picking up a TV, you should really consider a soundbar of some kind. (We have a whole guide dedicated to that.) But we’re recommending the Streambar here because it’s a relatively simple and inexpensive solution that solves two common pain points: getting streaming apps and better sound. It’s also a nice thing to have around to play a bit of music when you’re not watching anything. For even bigger sound, you might also want to consider the slightly pricier Streambar Pro.

Buy Roku Streambar at Amazon – $129


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