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Home video and TV tech for back to school

Looking for an excuse to buy a new piece of home entertainment gear? Today's video streamers and TVs can be educational. YouTube can be a great homework resource, and PBS has apps for kids young and old. Check out our back-to-school picks for more.

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David Katzmaier
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1 of 9 Sarah Tew/CNET

Entertainment gear for back to school

The time when kids go back to school traditionally signals the end of freedom and fun (summer) and the beginning of stress, responsibility, boredom and, well, un-fun. As a sop parents can rely on the traditional incentives: new clothes, a Trapper Keeper, or maybe a new iPhone case.

But have you considered giving that disconsolate returning student something he or she might actually want, namely big-screen entertainment? Our collection of home video gifts starts with affordable streaming sticks and goes up from there, all the way to affordable new TVs. The end of summer isn't so bad after all.

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Google Chromecast

Why your student will love it: As a way to get video, photos and music from a phone to a TV and/or an audio system, it's doesn't get much cheaper or more convenient than Chromecast. Even if your student only uses it to "cast" YouTube videos onto the big screen (his or his roommate's or the one at his friends' house), this eminently portable dongle pays for itself in coolness.

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3 of 9 Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Why your student will love it: Chromecast is great but if your student is serious about streaming, and you're serious about saving, the Fire TV stick is worth the very slightly extra cash. It has an actual remote, a great selection of apps and can even play hundreds of casual games on a big screen--most of which she's probably already played on her phone. Bonus: it also plays nice with finicky dorm-room wi-fi.

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Roku 2 (2015)

Why your student will love it: Got a student who's serious about streaming? Nothing beats Roku, and the new Roku 2 is the best on the market for the money. It delivers thousands of apps and a lightning-quick interface, making your student's TV the new center of attention.

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Apple TV

Why your student will love it: If she's deep into Apple and wants a streamer, the Apple TV is probably a better choice than Roku. It can stream Apple Music and works great with her iPhone or MacBook to interface with her TV or audio system.

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Nvidia Shield

Why your student will love it: Sure your game-crazed student probably already has a PS4 or Xbox One, but the Shield plays a lot of his casual Android games great on the big screen, and also offers a way to get his Nvidia PC's games onto the TV. It also happens to be an excellent vehicle for his "collection" of audio and video files.

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Sony BDP-S5500

Why your student will love it: Maybe your student is into "retro" tech like CD, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. If that's the case she'll love Sony's spinner, and that goes double if she wants to stream games from the PlayStation Now streaming service (controller not included).

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Vizio E series

Why your student will love it: First off, it's a new TV. Second, it's a new TV. That's probably all he cares about. You'll appreciate that it's a great value for the money and available in scads of sizes.

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Roku TV

Why your student will love it: The best streaming system, Roku, is now available without the box or stick, built right into the TV. Your student will appreciate the ability to watch Netflix on something bigger than her phone, and you'll love the affordable price.

The 2015 Roku TVs from TCL,Sharp and Insignia are just rolling out now, starting at $220 for the 32-inch size. The 40-inch TCL here was reviewed last year, but still it's a great bargain, and like all Roku TVs receives regular updates, including Roku's latest extras like My Feed.

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