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Best TVs and streaming gear for back to school

Before you know it, summer will be over and students will be returning to the classroom, or shipping off to their dorms, apartments, or sorority or frat houses. Here's some stuff to keep them entertained.

David Katzmaier
1 of 18 Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku Express ($30)

Dirt-cheap and awesome, the Express can turn any TV with an HDMI port into a streaming powerhouse.

Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

If you just want to spend as little as possible on a streamer, the Roku Express is your best bet this year.

Check out CNET's full Back to School tech guide.

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Roku Express Plus ($35)

Did your student inherit an older TV that doesn't have HDMI? The Express Plus is the answer, delivering Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and everything else via an old-school yellow video connection. 

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Google Chromecast ($35)

Your student is always on her phone. She loves watching YouTube videos. You love a bargain. Sounds like Chromecast, which allows her to blow up those phone videos to TV size, is the perfect gift.

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Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote ($40)

Or maybe your back-to-schooler likes to talk to Alexa so much that he wants it on his TV also. This streamer could be just the ticket.

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Roku Streaming Stick ($50)

If you're looking for slightly nicer streaming gift for your student returning to school, Roku's stick offers the invaluable convenience of controlling TV power and volume with the included remote.

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Roku Streaming Stick Plus ($70)

What's better than a Roku Stick? A Roku Stick with 4K and HDR. The Plus is designed to deliver the highest-quality video from Netflix, Amazon and others, but your student will need a 4K and/or HDR-capable TV to take full advantage.

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Amazon Fire TV Cube ($120)

So the dorm room is full of TV gear and your back-to-schooler needs an easy way to control it all...and impress her friends. "Hey Alexa, turn on the TV" can fire it all up, so to speak, and the Cube is also adept enough to stream 4K HDR.

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Apple TV ($150)

If your back-to-schooler has a bunch of stuff on iTunes, or she just wants something that looks and feels a lot like her iPhone, the new Apple TV is just the ticket. In addition to numerous TV apps it also works with many of the games and other apps she might already own.

At this price, however, it might make more sense to spend a bit more for the 4K version.

Apple TV 4K
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Apple TV 4K ($180)

Take everything we said before about the Apple TV and add compatibility with the latest 4K resolution and high dynamic range TV shows and movies. It's a grownup-level gift for your video-centric Apple fan.

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Nvidia Shield ($200)

So your student loves gaming almost as much as he loves streaming. The new Shield could make him a happy camper, especially if he already has a 4K TV.

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TCL S305 Roku TV ($150 and up)

As stoked as your student would be to get a new TV with thousands of built-in streaming apps, you'll be even more stoked at the value. TCL's least-expensive Roku TVs range from 32 to 49 inches.

TCL S405 series
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TCL S405 series 4K Roku TV ($280 and up)

Your student loves all the built-in Roku apps but maybe deserves a TV that a bit bigger and still ultra-affordable. The S405 is one of the least expensive 4K TVs available and comes in sizes from 43 to 65(!) inches.

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TCL 6 series ($600 and up)

If heading back to school means a really nice TV for your lucky student and/or their roommates, here's our top choice. The 6 series combines the same Roku system with a truly excellent picture.

Vizio M-Series 2018
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Vizio M-Series ($700 and up)

Maybe your student is more a fan of Chromecasting apps from her phone than clicking around on some big TV screen. Or maybe she deserves a 70-inch TV for back-to-school for some ungodly reason. For her, consider the M over the TCL.

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LG OLEDB7A series ($1,600 and up)

So what about that back-to-schooler has always wanted the best TV money can buy? Look no further than LG's OLED televisions, which cost a bundle but return perfect black levels and a lifetime of gratitude from your lucky student.

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Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 640 ($360)

And now for something completely different. Your back-to-schooler loves movie night more than mere TV and has a big enough space to stretch out a huge projector image. This Epson is one of the least expensive decent models available.

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Optoma HD142X ($550)

So what if your favorite student really likes movie night? The step-up answer to the Epson is this Optoma, which has full 1080p resolution and a gorgeous picture for the money.

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Optoma UHD60 ($1,800)

And the step-waaaay-up version of that Optoma is this, one of the first somewhat affordable projectors to deliver 4K resolution. Beyond the extra pixels, your lucky back-to-schooler will appreciate its overall superb image quality.

Check out CNET's full back to school tech guide.

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