I test 4K TVs and these 3 are the best back to school buys

Shots of the LG C2 OLED taken at LG's North American Headquarters.
(Image credit: Future)

When I was in college, I didn’t even own a TV. But my roommate did, and I was incredibly grateful to be able to use it at will in our shared living space. Back then the screens were smaller and there was no 4K – can you imagine? Today, we have enormous 4K and even 8K screens, though you’ll pay handsomely for the best 4K TVs in the largest screen sizes.

If you’re headed back to school and are checking out the back to school sales for the perfect TV to lug along, you’ve come to the right place. That’s because we have a trio of TV suggestions that will give you 4K, built-in streaming for the best streaming services, and many more features at a reasonable price. One reason these TVs are affordable is because they have a smaller screen size than their bigger-screen family members. But you don't need a huge screen for a small dorm room, do you?

Aside from not taking up too much space in your room, another advantage to having a compact, yet capable 4K TV is that you’ll be able to easily uproot it when it comes time to move – something that college students do often. The TVs we’ve selected below are all the smallest and most lightweight models in their respective lines, and they can be carried up and down stairs by a single person. Even so, they pack the same powerful features found in larger models from the same series, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out.

Whether you’re streaming shows and movies, gaming or heading down a YouTube rabbit hole, these TVs will provide a great experience without costing an arm and a leg. Let’s run through the details of each one, so you can decide which is the best fit for you – and your college dorm.

Roku Plus Series TV main smart interface

(Image credit: Future)

Roku Select Series (43-inch) 

Most people know Roku for its cheap 4K streaming sticks, but the company recently started selling Roku-branded TVs with its well-known smart TV interface built in. At $250 for a 43-inch model, the Select Series is a legitimate bargain. The main selling point here is 4K resolution, but there’s also support for the HDR10 and HDR10+ high dynamic range formats. 

With a native 60Hz refresh rate, Roku Select Series TVs are not the best option for gaming with a PS5 or Xbox Series X console, so if that’s your main concern, I’d instead direct you to the LG C2 OLED model further down this list or to one of the many options in our best 4K 120Hz TVs for gaming guide. But if you’re simply looking for a solid, cheap option for streaming movies and watching TV – between the set’s many apps, The Roku Channel and a Live TV portal with an enormous amount of streaming channels, there’s plenty available to watch here, much of it free – this is it.

How solid are Roku’s Select Series TVs? After reviewing a Roku Plus Series TV, a more expensive offering with enhanced video features that’s only available in screen sizes 55-inches and up, I recommended a Select Series model to a friend who was looking for a more compact TV. Not only was I was surprised at how good it looked, but Select Series TVs also support AirPlay streaming for viewing photos and videos from your iPhone, which in that case was a welcome feature.

Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED home screen

(Image credit: Future)

Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED Series (43-inch) 

Like Roku, Amazon is known for its cheap 4K streaming sticks, and the company also sells TVs with its Fire TV smart TV platform built-in. The Omni QLED Series sets are Amazon’s latest offerings, with a 43-inch model selling for $380.

The Fire TV smart interface is great for Amazon Prime Video subscribers, and is generally good for organizing and accessing other streaming apps. There are also plenty of free shows and movies to stream via the Amazon Freevee ad-supported streaming portal. This being an Amazon product, Alexa control is available for voice searches and other functions, and the company’s Luna cloud gaming service is on tap for gamers. Though, like the Roku Select Series, Amazon’s TV is a native 60Hz model.

The key upgrades you’ll get with the Omni QLED series over cheaper TVs are mainly video performance-oriented ones. These sets have a quantum dot display for enhanced color and brightness, while a full-array backlight with local dimming gives images strong contrast. Movie fans, in particular, will be pleased with the picture, especially given this TV’s low price.


(Image credit: LG)

LG C2 OLED (42-inch) 

The LG C2 dominates our best TV and best OLED TV lists as the top option for most people, and for good reason. It has great all-around video performance, good built-in sound quality and high-end gaming features, such as 4K 120Hz support for next-gen gaming consoles. LG C2 series sets are also available in a 42-inch screen size that’s perfect for dorm room life, and at just under $900, it’s affordable for an OLED TV.

OLED TVs are known for their deep, uniform blacks and refined color rendition, which makes them a great choice for movie fans. Sports also look fantastic on OLED TVs, though they’re generally not as bright as higher-end QLED models – something that shouldn’t be an issue in a dorm room.

But the main reason the LG C2 is on this list, aside from its size and price, is its gaming support. Four 4K 120Hz-capable HDMI 2.1 inputs mean that serious gamers can connect both a PS5 and Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S console, and there’s also Nvidia G-SYNC, FreeSync Premium, and VRR to enhance the gaming experience.

At $899, the LG C2 is very much a step-up option over the other sets listed here, but if you want an all-around great TV for movies, sports and gaming, it’s one we strongly recommend.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.