8 tech gifts perfect for college students setting up a home entertainment system in a dorm or apartment

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  • New and returning college students who are preparing to move into dorms or apartments will soon be in need of home entertainment products to fill their living spaces.
  • Thankfully, there are plenty of compact TVs, soundbars, and media devices that are ideal for smaller rooms. 
  • From a 32-inch smart TV to a space-saving smart speaker, we've put together a handy list of compact home entertainment recommendations for college students heading back to school.

Despite a shift toward virtual learning and some continued uncertainty surrounding campus openings, many college students will soon be returning to or moving into dorm rooms and apartments. Though these spaces tend to be on the small side, that doesn't mean students can't enjoy an immersive home entertainment experience. 

Home theaters are typically thought of as space hogs, but it's actually possible to build a compact home entertainment setup in a dorm or apartment. With the right gear, you can even enjoy advanced video and audio formats, like HDR and Dolby Atmos, without needing a massive display or a room full of surround sound speakers.

Below, we've selected the best home entertainment products for dorms and smaller apartments, including compact TVs, soundbars, a streaming stick, a game console, and a smart speaker. Whether you're looking to buy that special college student in your life a gift or you're a student yourself searching for tech recommendations, these picks will help turn any small living space into an immersive entertainment center.

A 32-inch HDTV

TCL 3 Series HDTV


Though the TV industry has primarily shifted to higher resolution displays like 4K and 8K, HDTVs still have a place in the market, particularly at smaller screen sizes. If you're in need of a compact TV for a dorm room or a small apartment, a simple 32-inch HDTV could be an ideal fit. At that size, the benefits of a higher resolution panel would be hard to see, so it makes little sense to pay extra for a 4K set. At a current price of $129.99, TCL's 3 Series offers solid performance for an entry-level TV.

To be clear, the picture quality you'll find on this TV is about as basic as it gets, but more advanced features are rare to find on displays this size. The set offers a resolution of 720p with standard dynamic range and a standard color gamut. That's enough to satisfy casual viewing needs, but don't expect high-end home theater quality. On the plus side, the 3 Series features support for the Roku smart TV platform so you don't have to worry about an extra streaming device. Instead, the display includes built-in access to many popular apps, like Netflix and Disney Plus.

As an affordable entry-level TV under $200, the TCL 3 Series is easily one of the better 32-inch display options out there.

A 43-inch 4K TV

TCL 5 Series

For those who want something a little larger but still manageable in a smaller apartment, a 43-inch TV is an ideal choice. You still won't find many high-end models available at this size, but there are some solid 4K Ultra HD options on the market, including displays with basic HDR capabilities. The 43-inch TCL 5 Series is an especially good buy at just $299.99. 

You likely won't see the full benefits that 4K resolution offers at this size, but the higher resolution panel should still yield some improvements over an HDTV. The display also boasts wide color gamut support with Dolby Vision playback. These features are hard to find on TVs this size and they provide a nice upgrade in picture quality when watching HDR videos. With that said, the TCL 5 Series doesn't support local dimming, so black levels won't be as inky as they'd be on a more expensive LCD model with that feature. 

When it comes to smart TV features, the TCL 5 Series includes integrated support for the Roku platform, making it easy to browse through a large assortment of popular apps. For college students who want a 4K TV that can fit in a smaller room, the 5 Series offers a lot of value.

A 50-inch 4K TV

Hisense H8G


Though the very best picture quality features are typically reserved for flagship TV models that are 55 inches or larger, there are still a few impressive display options available to buyers who need something a little smaller. Hisense's new 50-inch H8G is a perfect example. 

Unlike the other TV recommendations on this list, this model offers all of the advanced image features that home theater fans look for in a premium TV, including full-array local dimming for deep black levels and more precise HDR performance. The display also uses quantum dots for wide color gamut support, and boasts both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ playback. Android TV is integrated for convenient access to a large selection of apps, and the remote features voice search with Google Assistant. 

Though there are better looking 50-inch 4K TV models from Sony and Samsung, they cost more than double the price of the Hisense H8G. For under $400, the H8G offers impressive value. If you're looking for the very best performance at this screen size, however, there's also LG's new 48-inch CX OLED 4K TV to consider. The CX is LG's first OLED TV with a screen size option under 55-inches, and the 48-inch model is now available for $1,499.99. While that is very pricey for a TV that size, the CX includes all the high-end picture benefits that OLED TVs are known for.

  • Read our Hisense H8G 4K TV review here

A compact Soundbar

Sonos Beam

Soundbars come in all shapes and sizes, but few pack as many features into such a compact design quite like the Sonos Beam. This single-unit soundbar is just 25.6 inches long, making it an ideal fit for placement with smaller displays and TV stands.  

Despite the soundbar's compact size, the Sonos Beam still manages to pack a solid punch, offering a sizable upgrade over the wimpy integrated speakers you're likely to find built into most TVs. The 3.0-channel soundbar features four full-range woofers and one tweeter, along with support for PCM stereo and Dolby Digital processing. The Beam can also pair with other Sonos speakers for multi-room audio playback.

As an added bonus, the Sonos Beam even includes support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa built right into the soundbar. This means that buyers who want a digital assistant don't have to buy an extra smart speaker. Instead, you can save even more space with this all-in-one smart soundbar. On the downside, the Beam is a bit pricey at $399.00, but its functionality and convenience helps to justify the high cost.

  • Read our Sonos Beam review here

A compact Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Vizio 3.1.2 SB36312 Soundbar


Living in a dorm or smaller apartment doesn't mean you can't enjoy a true home theater audio experience. Sure, it's unlikely that you're going to be able to fit a full-sized surround sound system in your room, but that doesn't mean you have to settle on standard stereo playback. In fact, there are a few compact Dolby Atmos soundbar systems that are ideally suited for smaller spaces, including Vizio's SB36312.

This model features a 36-inch soundbar with a left, center, and right channel. Two up-firing speaker drivers are included as well. These special drivers are designed to bounce sound off of your ceiling to simulate the effect of audio coming from above your head. Though the effect can be hit or miss, the added level of immersion is impressive, creating an enveloping movie-watching experience without the need for multiple speakers. 

For dedicated bass, the SB36312 also includes a wireless 5-inch subwoofer. To help make the system even more apartment friendly, the subwoofer has a unique slim design, so you can easily place it out of the way. Though the SB36312 lacks the digital assistant functionality you'll find on the Sonos Beam, this model is a better fit for people who want a compact home theater experience.

A compact streaming player

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

While most new displays include integrated smart TV platforms with access to streaming apps, if you happen to be moving into a dorm or apartment with an older "dumb" TV, then a dedicated streaming player is an essential. Even if you have a modern smart TV, certain streaming players can offer faster performance and a bigger app selection than some built-in TV operating systems. 

When it comes compact to streaming sticks, few are as feature-packed as Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K. This simple device plugs right into the HDMI port of your TV, adding support for a large assortment of streaming services, including Prime Video, Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, Apple TV Plus, and more. An Alexa remote is also included for easy voice control and voice search functions. The Fire TV Stick 4K boasts compatibility with a comprehensive list of video formats, including Dolby Vision and HDR10+. Support for those advanced formats is something notably missing from Roku's competing Streaming Stick+. 

On the downside, the Fire TV Stick 4K is currently missing a couple of key apps, like Vudu and HBO Max, but it's possible that these services will be added in the future. For buyers who want a compact streaming device with robust HDR support, the Fire TV Stick 4K is your best option.

  • Read our Fire TV Stick 4K review here

A compact video game console

Nintendo Switch

Though stock is sadly hard to come by right now, the Nintendo Switch is the perfect video game console for buyers who need to conserve space. Its compact size and portable capabilities make it uniquely well suited for smaller apartments and dorms. 

Not only is the system itself tiny compared to competing consoles, but you don't even need a TV to play it. The device can be pulled out of its included docking station for handheld gameplay. This makes it easy to play if you don't have space for an actual display, or your roommates are hogging the TV. You can simply sit back and relax on your couch or bed and enjoy a number of high-profile games, including "Animal Crossing: New Horizons," "Super Mario Odyssey," and "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild."

Unfortunately, the system is currently sold out at most retailers, but a handheld only version of the console, the Switch Lite, is currently available for purchase. The only downside is that this model can't be hooked up to a TV for big screen gameplay. 

A compact smart speaker

Echo Dot

Smart speakers have become an essential part of any connected home, even dorms and smaller apartments. The Echo Dot is one of the most compact and reliable smart speakers you can buy, offering all of the Alexa capabilities you'd find on one of Amazon's larger and more expensive models but in a tiny and convenient package.

The puck-shaped Echo Dot allows you to ask questions, control compatible smart devices, set alarms, play music, and more through simple hands-free voice commands. This model doesn't offer the same audio quality you'd find on Amazon's larger Echo speaker, but considering its size, the Dot still sounds pretty decent. The device also includes a 3.5 mm output so you can connect it to a pair of external speakers if you want better music playback. 

For students who are in the market for a smart alarm clock, there's also a new Echo Dot model with a built-in LED clock that's worth considering. This version is an ideal fit for resting on a nightstand, ensuring that you always wake up in time for college classes.

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