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The best budget TVs and streaming gadgets for students

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Listen up students: you deserve better than watching movies on a laptop in bed. When you really want to immerse yourself in a movie (or a game or a TV show), nothing beats a big screen TV. And it turns out you don’t have to invest thousands to get started with a decent dorm entertainment system. LCD devices and streaming devices are cheaper than ever. So save the notebook for schoolwork – consider these inexpensive ways to enhance your movie and gaming experience.

TVs for smaller rooms

43-inch TCL 4 Series

TCL 4 Series Smart TV

Engadget

A TV with a built-in Roku or Google TV is one of the easiest ways to start streaming content, making it ideal for most students. This 4 Series TCL model has a 4K screen (with upscaling from lower resolution sources) and HDR for better dynamic range. But the best part is that you can usually find it under $300. It’s not the most feature-rich TCL TV (the 5-series costs about $200 more and adds Dolby Vision), but it’s one of the best options at this price point. And at 43 inches, it’s small enough to fit in most dorm rooms while still offering enough screen real estate to immerse you in a movie.

Buy a 43-inch TCL 4 Series TV from Amazon – $260

43-inch Vizio M-Series Quantum

43-inch Vizio M-Series Quantum

Engadget

A slight upgrade from Vizio’s entry-level D-series TVs, the M-series devices are better suited to gamers with support for billions of colors and AMD’s FreeSync (which makes gameplay smoother). It also has a sub-10ms response time – not the fastest, but fast enough to make most games playable without feeling laggy. It also looks pretty modern, with a 3-sided frameless design. Best of all, it’s fairly affordable, starting under $400. And if you want those features on a larger screen, you can scale up to 75 inches (just imagine that in a cramped dorm room).

Buy Vizio M Series TVs on Amazon

Bigger and better TVs

55 inch TCL 5 series

TCL 5 series

Engadget

Available in Google TV or Roku flavors, TCL’s sets of 5 offer a lot of value for their price. This includes support for Dolby Vision, a wide color space beefed up with Quantum Dots, and plenty of local backlight zones to manage black levels and contrast. You’ll notice a definite visual upgrade over the other budget sets mentioned, so we’d recommend upgrading to this one if you have a discerning eye. The sleek and frameless design of the 5 Series also looks very modern and supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit.

Buy a 55-inch TCL 5 Series TV from Amazon – $450

Essential streaming accessory

Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV

Will Lipman photography for Engadget

If you’re a heavy Google user, there’s no better streaming device than Chromecast with Google TV. Unlike previous versions of Google’s Puck, it has its own user interface, as well as a range 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 device already has Chromecast streaming built-in.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Amazon – $50

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Will Lipman photography for Engadget

If you have an older TV or just want something faster than your device’s onboard apps, Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K is worth buying. It only costs $40 (and often less), supports 4K (with HDR and Dolby Vision), and gives you access to Roku’s entire library of apps. But the best thing is that it is so small that you can easily take it with you when you travel. The Streaming Stick 4K also supports Apple AirPlay, so you can stream videos from iOS devices and Macs. Roku’s included voice remote also makes it easy to search for things without hacking around on an onscreen keyboard.

Buy Roku Streaming Stick 4K from Amazon – $50

Roku stream bar

Roku stream bar

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 how Roku is. Honestly, if you’re picking up a TV, you really should consider some sort of soundbar. (We have an entire guide for that.) But we recommend Streambar here because it’s a relatively simple and inexpensive solution that solves two common problems: streaming apps and better sound. It’s also a nice touch to play some music when you’re not looking. For even bigger sound, you might also want to consider the slightly more expensive Streambar Pro.

Buy Roku Streambar at Amazon – $130

Jabra Elite 45H wireless headphones

Jabra Elite 45H wireless headphones

Will Lipman photography for Engadget

If you live with roommates (or somewhere with thin walls), wireless headphones definitely come in handy. We recommend Jabra’s Elite 45H because they’re relatively cheap (at just $100), sound great, and have a very comfortable design. They’ll pair with most TVs or set-top boxes via Bluetooth, or you can just plug a cable into Roku’s remotes. The 45H will last up to 50 hours on a single charge and are of course useful far beyond your living room. They are comfortable to wear all day no matter where you are.

Buy Jabra Elite 45h on Amazon – $100

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Russell Falcon

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