By Woody Leonhard/Windows Secrets Newsletter
How many times have you wanted to download and store an online streaming video so you could play it back at a different time or on a different machine?
While the basics of downloading YouTube and other videos have been around for a long time, there are tricks to getting the video you want into a format you can use.
The tricks aren’t limited to YouTube. If you get the right software, you can download almost any streaming video and store it in many different formats. You can even download Flash games and play them when you’re offline.
Each video (and online game) site has different restrictions, so make sure your activities don’t violate any laws or user agreements. The YouTube terms of service (TOS), for example, are quite succinct:
“You agree not to distribute in any medium any part of the Service or the Content without YouTube’s prior written authorization. … You agree not to access Content through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Service itself, the Embeddable Player, or other explicitly authorized means YouTube may designate.”
As far as I can tell, YouTube’s TOS doesn’t cover cases where a product (such as an iPad) is incapable of playing a video because of format restrictions. More about that in a moment.
What the YouTube TOS says you can do might not coincide with local laws. Is it illegal to record something playing on your computer, so you can view it at a later time? If so, why does YouTube have hooks that allow programs to download files? (Netflix, for example, is almost impervious to similar approaches because of the technology it uses.) The legal situation is murky at best. Caveat downloader.
First, when Microsoft’s Julie Larson-Green and Steve Sinofsky gave the Windows 8 demo at the All Things D conference. I had to download the video so I could watch it repeatedly on a flight. I caught a lot of nuances at 30,000 feet — without the complications of a video-stuttering Internet connection or exorbitant in-flight connection fees.
I accomplished the download, but it took some serious mojo.
Second — and more importantly — before heading out on vacation. I wanted to grab a handful of YouTube videos that my son could watch later. Believe me, a fussy toddler in the back of a stuffy taxi responds marvelously to a YouTube lullaby or a familiar sing-along on the ol’ iPad. Some of the places we go just don’t have Internet connections — and I’ll be skinned and steeped in cactus juice before I’ll spend $25 a day for a hotel’s connection to the World Wide Web.
Also, my friends have asked for tips on downloading videos — from YouTube and other sites with streaming content — for a multitude of reasons. Some of them have good Internet connections just at home, or only in a coffee shop, or when at the office, but tortuously slow speeds elsewhere. Downloading a video where there’s a fast connection and replaying it at leisure avoids the glips and glops of a bad line. Some have YouTube blocked by their corporate admins, so they have to smuggle videos of the Evian babies into work. One friend likes to record things so he can view them while camping on the weekend.
I like to record videos for all those reasons plus one more that stands out: I hate it when I can’t view a Flash video on my iPad. (As you will quickly discover, if you haven’t already, Apple’s iPads and iPhones don’t do Flash — at least, not without Herculean effort.) Fortunately for the users of those devices, most popular YouTube videos are available in Flash and H.264/MP4 formats; YouTube senses when your computer can’t play Flash and usually dishes up an MP4 instead. But some of the more obscure videos on YouTube — including many kids’ videos in a hundred languages — don’t get the dual-format treatment. Try to play them on your iPad or iPhone, and you might get an obscure, bogus error message about a server malfunction.
Server malfunction, my foot. YouTube just hasn’t taken the time or care to convert formats. So I have to do it myself.
That said, there’s one occasion where you don’t want to download a video. It makes no sense at all to rip a video off a major site such as YouTube and e-mail that video file to someone else. Save yourself a ton of bother, and save your correspondents megabytes of useless bits. E-mail a link to the YouTube site, not the video itself. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many e-mails I get with attached files that were scraped off YouTube.
This post is excerpted with permission from Windows Secrets.