On the cheap
If you're heading off to school without a current- (or next-) generation gaming console in tow, this year's media streamer of choice is the Roku 3. With updated software and hardware to go along with its healthy suite of channels, the newest Roku is a welcome addition to the line. Of course, the Apple TV is also an option if your media intake is tied to iTunes and AirPlay for easy mirroring, and an HDMI-connected PC is the most flexible choice, but in terms of simplicity, the Roku 3 is hard to beat. Finally, roommates everywhere will appreciate the new unit's remote; it features a headphone jack so you can watch Netflix on the big screen without waking anybody up.
Key specs: 750-plus channels, dual-band 802.11b/g/n, 1080p.
Price: about $99 on Amazon
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Of course, if you'd like to enjoy discs along with your streaming content, you'll probably need a Blu-ray player -- and this option from Sony is one of our favorites. It has apps for nearly every service users will expect (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and many more), and the 2013 model promises a better WiFi connection to make sure video feeds don't drop out.
Price: $120 on Amazon
If you're going to school out of state, you may have more issues than just higher tuition, since following your local team can get complicated. One of the easiest ways to address that is with a Slingbox, and the new 350 is updated with support for 1080p and an integrated IR blaster (adding WiFi means a step up to the 500). Connect this to a set-top box at home, and then watch local broadcasts from anywhere.
Price: about $150 on Amazon
Need a small TV to go with your cramped accommodations? Samsung's UN32F5500 recently saw its price sneak under $400, and with 1080p resolution plus built-in apps, WiFi and three HDMI inputs, it's more than ready to take on the equipment you'll be plugging into it this year or next. Vizio, Toshiba and others have options in the sub-$300 price range, although dropping down there will mean cutting features accordingly.
Key specs: 1080p, 60Hz, Smart TV apps, dual-core CPU.
Price: $390 on Amazon
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If what you need is a new way to control your home theater, take a look at Logitech's latest attempt, the Harmony Ultimate Hub. For just a Benjamin, it lets any iOS or Android device replace the remote you've either already lost or will misplace soon. In our dream world, it would use more than just IR or Bluetooth for control, but for now, just being the greatest addition to the Harmony family will have to do when it's available solo in August.
Price: Price: $100 from Logitech
For 2013, Sony updated the 7.2-channel receiver we already liked with a revamped chassis, 4K support and a new UI. We figure 10 HD inputs, WiFi, Bluetooth and AirPlay connectivity should be enough to last you at least through grad school.
Price: about $600 on Amazon
Money's No Object
Panasonic is still pushing its well-regarded line of plasma HDTVs, and this year's ST60 is a great bang-for-your-buck option. Unfortunately, the GT we recommended last year is gone, and so are its THX-Certified configuration options (jumping up to the VT or ZT models adds all of that and more, albeit at a hefty price), but this one is slightly cheaper and brings a new "NeoPlasma Black" panel. Our advice? Find a relative that skipped your open house and explain how you need this to study the visual artistry of Pacific Rim in 2D and 3D for film class this fall -- but beware the dreaded gaming lag.
Key Specs: 1080p, Infinite Black Pro Panel, two pairs of active 3D glasses included, Viera Remote 2 app support.
Price: $1,349 on Amazon
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We're still not sure if Google TV will ever live up to Larry Page's boasts, but with built-in support for apps like OnLive, LG's latest round of TVs brings all the entertainment you could ask for, no set-top box required. Other new features include NFC and Miracast, while a pumped-up dual-core processor inside keeps things moving smoothly and the Q3 Jelly Bean update should push the platform even further.
Price: Price: $1,499 on Amazon
This LED-lit LCD from Samsung brings most of the company's latest technology, including micro dimming, an upgradeable quad-core CPU and the Smart Interaction voice + gesture controls. Support for DLNA via AllShare means tossing media from different devices is easier than ever, and there's even a full web browser built right in.
Price: about $2,000 on Amazon