A couple years ago, some services decided it wasn't enough to just provide some a la carte streaming of shows. They wanted to provide what is pretty much a full cable-television subscription experience over the internet. These are those services. They won't necessarily give you super-granular control over content like you'd have with a regular streaming service, or even moreso with a DVR recording stuff off the air, but they give you access to a lot of content you might not otherwise get without a cable subscription—especially news and sports.
Keeping a wired connection to your media streamer will always give you the best reception possible. I have zero interest in a wireless connection for my main television. But we don’t live in a wired world that much anymore. If you have a second (or third) television that streams off of a media stick or gaming console, it’s a good time to check the strength of your wireless router.
In the most common system, multiple television channels (as many as 500, although this varies depending on the provider's available channel capacity) are distributed to subscriber residences through a coaxial cable, which comes from a trunkline supported on utility poles originating at the cable company's local distribution facility, called the "headend". Many channels can be transmitted through one coaxial cable by a technique called frequency division multiplexing. At the headend, each television channel is translated to a different frequency. By giving each channel a different frequency "slot" on the cable, the separate television signals do not interfere with each other. At an outdoor cable box on the subscriber's residence the company's service drop cable is connected to cables distributing the signal to different rooms in the building. At each television, the subscriber's television or a set-top box provided by the cable company translates the desired channel back to its original frequency (baseband), and it is displayed onscreen. Due to widespread cable theft in earlier analog systems, the signals are typically encrypted on modern digital cable systems, and the set-top box must be activated by an activation code sent by the cable company before it will function, which is only sent after the subscriber signs up. If the subscriber fails to pay their bill, the cable company can send a signal to deactivate the subscriber's box, preventing reception.
Not everything is free: Although over-the-air TV reception and many streaming channels are free, there are many streaming channels and services that require a monthly subscription or pay-per-view fee. If you only pay for one or two subscription-based or pay-per-view services, you can save money over cable/satellite. However, if you keep adding more pay services, those fees can add up, and you might again find yourself with a hefty monthly subscription or pay-per-view bill that could rival that old cable/satellite bill.
Another thing to consider is if you can set up antenna TV to catch local channels. While it might not work for everyone or everywhere, if there's a network TV show you just have to see live then this is the cheapest option. Digital TV antennas are easy to find with designs ready for home and apartments -- check out our guide for more info on how to choose the right one.