Free utilities to download videos from YouTube

One of the most frequently asked questions I’m asked is how to download YouTube and other videos on the Web. Luckily, there are several free utilities, Web sites and browser plug-ins that make the process easy.

There is a popular free browser plug-in for Firefox, as indicated by the 6.5 million copies downloaded, that can download almost all YouTube videos as well as the videos from most other Web sites. This Firefox plug-in Video DownloadHelper is available for instant installation at addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/video-downloadhelper. This browser plug-in could not be much more easy to use. According to the DownloadHelper Web site, “Just surf the Web as you are used to; when DownloadHelper detects it can do something for you, the icon gets animated and a menu allows you to download files by simply clicking an item.” The icon that is referred to is typically located on one of the menu or toolbars, and consists of three colored balls (red, yellow or blue) that rotate whenever a compatible video is detected. A second colored balls icon, this one non-rotating, also appears on the top-left of the YouTube video. Even though the rotating “colored balls” icon on the menu or toolbar is small, there is a tiny down arrow on the right edge of the rotating balls; left clicking on the tiny down arrow displays the different resolutions and video formats available for direct download. Standard resolutions are indicated with a red square with a right arrow, and HD resolutions are indicated with an HD logo. Resolutions are also listed in pixels, such as 240p, 360p and 720p (or higher), and many of the videos are also available for download in multiple formats, typically FLV, MP4 and the mobile 3GP video formats. Moving the mouse cursor over one of the resolution and format listings will display another window that displays the download options; my personal choice for downloaded YouTube videos is to select the “Medium – MP4” and “Quick Download” options. Most third-party video players on both PCs and Macs can play videos in MP4 format. If I want to download the video to play on my smartphone, I choose the 3GP format. Another method to downloading YouTube videos with DownloadHelper is to left click on the non-rotating colored ball icon on the top-left of the YouTube image, and select a download option.

There is much more to DownloadHelper. Right clicking on the rotating balls icon will open a configuration menu where the user can modify the program settings as desired, including the ability to automatically convert the download into one of several listed formats. A second companion plug-in (free) may be required in order to convert into some video formats, and DownloadHelper can download and install the utility. An additional DownloadHelper plug-in places a single red ball adjacent to the rotating icon; clicking on this red ball allows the user to screen capture almost any video from almost any Web site that is not directly supported by DownloadHelper. Upon clicking the red ball, a moveable bracket will appear, and activating the utility will record whatever appears within the bracket. Clicking again on the red ball icon turns this feature off.

For those not using the Firefox browser (or those Firefox users who do not want any plug-ins) there are several good alternatives to DownloadHelper. One Web based download utility that is very easy to use is Tubekeeper, at www.tubekeeper.com. All the user needs to do in order to download YouTube videos using Tubekeeper is to copy the YouTube Web address (URL) and paste it in the “URL – Download” blue box, and then click the download button to download the video to the user’s computer. If using Tubekeeper, I recommend that the user clicks on the “Share” button on the bottom edge of the YouTube video screen, then click “Options” and check the “Long Link” option box, and then copy the link, and paste it into Tubekeeper. If the high definition (HD) video is desired, also check both the “HD Link” and the “Long Link” boxes, and then copy and paste the link into Tubekeeper. Click the download button to download the video.Some users prefer to use a non-Web-based utility to download and convert videos, and a very good free utility is the award winning Free Video Downloader, which can be downloaded from www.freemake.com/free_video_downloader. This software utility can download videos from more than 10,000 Web sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo. During the download process, Free Video Downloader can convert the video into a wide selection for formats. This software can also download YouTube videos that are embedded into other Web sites.

An open secret among geeks is that YouTube videos can also be downloaded directly to the user’s computer using a variety of tricks, mostly adding a word or prefix to the YouTube URL (web address). One of the most popular download tricks was recently published on Gizmo’s TechSupportAlert.com. This trick is explained by Gizmo as a simple four step process: First, open the desired YouTube video in your browser; second, add the word “save” after the “www.” and before the “youtube.com,” making the address www.saveyoutube.com/watch/<filename>; next, the page will reload as a SaveYouTube page, where the Web site will directly downloaded the chosen video. A video with instructions is available on the SaveYouTube Web site at www.saveyoutube.com.

Using any of these utilities, any user can download YouTube (and other) videos for any legitimate purpose. I typically show them directly from a CD or a USB flash drive, or embed them into a PowerPoint presentation. I have also downloaded some videos to my smartphone explicitly for entertainment purposes. In order to be legally correct, the DownloadHelper Web site contains this proviso: “Note that DownloadHelper does not break any real protection implemented on the sites. It gives easier access to available content that will be downloaded by your browser anyway. With some exceptions, downloaded videos must be kept on your disk for personal use and are not to be shown on other Web sites.” This might be a good rule to follow.Enjoy your downloaded videos.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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