August is winding down and as the month goes, so too, does the lazy, sunny haze of summer vacation. And as the break from classes comes to an end, most new and returning college students are preparing to head back to their "cozy" little dorm rooms. For many HD gear loving undergrads, this probably means saying goodbye to your parents' swanky home theater rooms, and hello to a 20-inch tube TV that you found outside a haunted Circuit City.
Somewhere stuck halfway between a claustrophobic apartment and a broom closet, most dorms aren't exactly known for their luxurious size… or privacy… or appealing odors. But fret not, just because you're heading back to a cupboard with a bed, doesn't mean that you can't enjoy some high quality video and audio entertainment!
With that in mind, we've put together a buying guide filled with space and budget conscious gear items that are a perfect fit for the university lifestyle. From compact smart TVs and sound stands to streaming sticks and wireless speakers, these are the ideal home theater products for any college dorm.
Note: All prices below reflect current Amazon discounts.
While most home theater enthusiasts will likely agree that when it comes to TV screen sizes, bigger is most definitely better, a 65-inch Ultra HD display or 100-inch projector screen just aren't realistic for most (or any) dorm rooms. After all, if your television takes up the whole wall, where are you going to put that Starry Night poster that lets everyone know that you're totally into art? Thankfully, smaller sized TVs don't necessarily mean poor quality, and there are some very solid options out there for 40-inch, 32-inch and smaller screens with great cord-cutting friendly smart TV platforms. And if you ever feel like your TV still isn't big enough, you can always just sit really close. Hell, considering the size of most dorms that will probably be mandatory anyway.
VIZIO E-Series Smart HDTVs
Though once thought of purely as a budget brand, VIZIO is quickly becoming one of the best bang-for-your-buck TV manufacturers on the market, and their E-Series is home to some very nice picture quality and streaming features. The sets offer full-array LED backlighting (edge-lit on the 24-inch model) with up to 16 active zones to produce deep black levels and superior uniformity. Likewise, all of the models include the company's VIZIO Internet Apps Plus smart TV platform that offers built-in Wi-Fi and popular services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, iHeartRadio, Hulu Plus, Spotify, YouTube and more.
TCL Roku Smart HDTVs
With their popular media players and HDMI sticks, Roku has made quite a name for itself in the streaming world, so it should come as no surprise that the company has now integrated its platform into several HDTV models. With a Roku smart HDTV, users get access to the company's intuitive interface and growing channel store with an extensive lineup of apps, including support for the Sling TV platform. Likewise, each TCL Roku model has also been awarded the new Netflix Recommended TV designation, ensuring an optimized Netflix experience, making them the perfect fit for cord-cutting college students on a budget. The top of the line 3850 series also features "a premium design with a metallic finish offered in gunmetal and an all-aluminum quad pedestal stand."
Yes, we all want true surround sound with the latest Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio technologies... but a dorm room and college budget don't really lend themselves to such high-end, space-eating setups. Sure, truly dedicated users could find some way to mount speakers and hide subwoofers in every crevice and corner, but when your terrified RA calls the cops during the shootouts in 'John Wick,' you might wish you had something a little more manageable... and less likely to bring a swat team to your door. With that in mind, a soundbar system is a great alternative for students who want to upgrade their wimpy integrated TV speakers without breaking the bank or losing too much space. Some models even feature simulated surround sound modes, wireless subwoofers, Bluetooth support, and special compact designs. Here's a rundown of some solid soundbar models that should fit nicely in any dorm setting...
As space-saving as soundbars are, some models can still be a bit big for a dorm room setting. Thankfully, an even more compact audio solution is now available from several manufacturers. Sound Stands are designed to fit directly under a customer's TV, adding room-filling audio without taking up any additional real estate. Likewise, many models offer built-in subwoofers, Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music, and support for various audio codecs.
TV2 - TV Speaker Base - $299
Bluetooth Wireless Speakers
Sound Stands and soundbars are pretty great dorm room home theater substitutes, but what if you aren't actually planning to pair a speaker with a TV? After all, many college students do most of their media watching on laptops and tablets now, so a simple wireless speaker for music streaming really might be all you need or want. There's lots of solid Bluetooth models on the market that offer decent audio quality and features in very compact designs, letting students play all their music from mobile devices during impromptu dance parties -- you know, between all that studying.
Riva Audio Turbo X Bluetooth Speaker - $350, Full review coming soon!
Living in a dorm also probably means living with a roommate. And living with a roommate means you probably won't always be able to blast your movies at reference levels. Likewise, living with a roommate means that you will probably also want the option to block out certain noises with some quality music in your ears. Thankfully, headphones should do the trick quite nicely. Whether you want to enjoy a Netflix title late at night or listen to the latest Taylor Swift album shame-free without anybody else knowing, a good pair of headphones are a dorm room must! And as an added bonus, companies like DTS are now offering rather impressive surround sound technologies compatible with any headphones, letting users experience immersive audio without any speakers at all through DTS Headphone:X content.
Though most TVs on the market now feature integrated streaming apps, it's possible that many college students might still be rocking "dumb" TVs or displays that don't offer particularly robust streaming libraries. If that's the case, then the best solution for any cord-cutting undergrad is a dedicated streaming device. Media players and media sticks are fantastic, compact solutions that allow customers to access services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, HBO Go, and many more. While some apps are only available on certain devices (for now, Roku is still missing HBO Now support), they all provide fairly similar features. With that said, the Google Chromecast works a little differently than the other products. Instead of having apps directly on the stick, it allows users to "cast" content and services from their mobile gear, laptops, and PCs.
Chromecast - $32
Fire TV Stick - $39
Roku Streaming Stick - $47
Apple TV - $68.
Roku 3 - $98
So, there you have it. Those are a few gear suggestions for new and returning college students living the dorm lifestyle. You may not have the space or cash for an Ultra HD OLED TV or a full Dolby Atmos system just yet, but with these products you should still be able to enjoy some quality HD entertainment. For now, what do you think about our suggestions? Will you be picking up any of these gear items for your college dorm? Do you have any college gear suggestions of your own? Let us know in the forums!