The best streaming devices and televisions for the start of the school year


Yes, school should be all about hitting the books. Corn whether a student is in a dorm or remotely from home, only the most dedicated student will give up television time. The good news is that cable and satellite are no longer needed – you can even ditch a disc player. This is because almost all TVs sold now are a smart model with built-in streaming options. And even an old “stupid TV” can be streamed with the addition of a $ 30- $ 50 add-on.

Read more: Best back-to-school gear under $ 100 for 2021

We’ve covered all of these angles below, with favorites across all price points. Keep a few points in mind:

  • This list is Roku-heavy because it’s our favorite affordable smart TV operating system. Corn Amazon Fire TV Streaming Sticks and televisions are decent substitutes, if you’re okay with seeing a lot of Prime shows advertised on the menus.
  • All TVs have at least two HDMI ports, so they can be connected to game consoles, laptops, or any modern video source.
  • All of these were chosen independently after being fully reviewed by the editors at CNET.

And with this good faith established, let’s look at our choices.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Roku is our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming app options, the easiest interface, and the best looking. This makes it the first choice for college students, and the new Express 4K Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR. (Even if your student’s TV doesn’t support these formats, the next one probably will.) Thanks to the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the cheapest ways to connect your iPhone or any other. Apple device to your TV. At $ 10 less than the company’s Streaming Stick Plus and other 4K HDR streamers, it’s our top pick.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Let’s sort this out first: If your student prefers the simplicity of Roku’s app-based menus, you might want to spend a bit more on the Roku Express (below). But the Lite outperforms the Express in terms of features for the money. The biggest advantage of this Fire TV device is a remote with built-in search and voice control, thanks to Alexa (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Express Plus 4K). The Fire Stick’s remote control also doesn’t need line-of-sight to work. If you just want a cheap streamer for a college student, this is your best bet.

Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Speaking of TV remotes, combining the TV and streaming apps on one screen, with just one remote required, makes things even easier. TCL’s entry-level 32S331 includes built-in Roku streaming at a really affordable price. The 32-inch can be found for under $ 180 at Walmart.

Read our review of the TCL S325.

Sarah Tew / CNET

If you’re looking for a Roku alternative – and you’re buying for someone who’s an Amazon Prime member – check out this Fire TV model. They feature Amazon’s streaming system, as well as Alexa control, and currently cost even less than Roku’s 32-inch TVs. (We haven’t reviewed this particular Insignia, but we expect it to perform as well as this Toshiba.)

Geoffrey Morrison / CNET

Does your student want something a little bigger, maybe with a 4K screen? If you’re just looking for an easy-to-use TV with a decent picture, this is a great place to start. It’s ridiculously affordable and offers 4K resolution in a wide range of sizes, starting with the 43in model linked here. It’s a great budget choice for any 4K capable video game system.

Read our TCL Series 4 (2021) Roku TV review.

Sarah Tew / CNET

While it lacks the voice and pointing remote features of the cheaper Fire TV Stick Lite, The Express covers the basics beautifully with fast response times and Roku’s super-simple interface. Going cheaper means your student loses 4K HDR quality and a better remote control from the Express Plus 4K, but it still delivers the same quality content.

Read our Roku Express (2019) review.

Sarah Tew / CNET

If your student enjoys gaming, especially PC gaming, the fully equipped Shield TV has a lot to offer. It allows you to stream from a PC using Steam Link or play from a selection of great Android games. Of course, this compact device is also a great video streamer, with access to all your favorites like Netflix, Disney Plus, Twitch, and YouTube.

Read our Nvidia Shield TV review.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Part 4K streaming box, part soundbar, the Roku Streambar is perfect for updating your students’ old TVs. It’s also quite affordable for what it does, and it offers both ease of use and extra scalability (rear speakers, subwoofer) on the go. Considering its compact size, it sounds great with games, movies, and music.

Read our Roku Streambar review.

David Katzmaier / CNET

Want to give your student an even bigger and more special screen? The TCL 6 Series is our favorite TV for overall value, with excellent picture quality that outperforms many TVs that cost hundreds more. It can be difficult to fit its smaller size (55 inches) into a dorm room, but if your student has the space and you have the budget, this is a great choice.

Read our review of the TCL 6 series (2020 Roku TV).

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