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The best budget TVs and streaming gadgets for students

·Senior Editor
·5-min read
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Listen up, students: You deserve better than watching movies on a 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 and gaming experience.

TVs for smaller spaces

43-inch TCL 4-Series

TCL 4-Series smart TV
TCL 4-Series smart TV

A television with Roku or Google TV built-in is one of the easiest ways to start streaming content, 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 under $300. It's not the most feature-packed TCL TV (the 5-series costs around $200 more and adds Dolby Vision), but it's one of the best options at that 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 43-inch TCL 4-Series TV at Amazon - $260

43-inch Vizio M-Series Quantum

43-inch Vizio M-Series Quantum
43-inch Vizio M-Series Quantum

A slight upgrade from Vizio’s entry-level D-series TVs, the M-series sets are better suited for 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 around, but speedy enough to make most games playable without feeling laggy. It also looks fairly modern, with a 3-sided bezel-less design. Best of all, it’s fairly affordable, starting under $400. And if you want these features in a bigger screen, you can scale all the way up to 75-inches (just imagine that in a cramped dorm room.)

Shop Vizio M-Series TVs at Amazon

Bigger and better TVs

55-inch TCL 5-Series

TCL 5-series
TCL 5-series

TCL’s 5-series sets are available in Google TV or Roku flavors, and pack in plenty of value for their price. That includes support for Dolby Vision, a wide color gamut souped-up with Quantum Dots, and plenty of local backlighting zones to manage black levels and contrast. You’ll notice a significant visual upgrade over the other budget sets mentioned, so we’d recommend upgrading to this one if you’ve got a discerning eye. The 5-series slim and bezel-less design also looks very modern, and it supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit.

Buy 55-inch TCL 5-Series TV at Amazon - $450

Must-have streaming accessories

Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV
Chromecast with Google TV

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 Amazon - $50

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Roku Streaming Stick 4K

If you own an older TV, or you just want something a bit zippier than your set's onboard apps, Roku's Streaming Stick 4K is worth snapping up. It's just $40 (and often less), supports 4K (with HDR and Dolby Vision), 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 4K 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 without pecking away at an onscreen keyboard.

Buy Roku Streaming Stick 4K at Amazon - $50

Roku Streambar

Roku Streambar
Roku Streambar

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 - $130

Jabra Elite 45H wireless headphones

Jabra Elite 45H wireless headphones
Jabra Elite 45H wireless headphones

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

Buy Jabra Elite 45h at Amazon - $100

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