It’s an understatement to say that YouTube is kind of a big deal. Since the launching of its first video in 2005 (the riveting “Me at the Zoo”), the site has grown to be a phenomenon, bolstered by its passionate community and accessed by hundreds of millions of people each day. However, how do you watch YouTube videos when you leave your network behind? Maybe you just absolutely need to watch the music video for “Gangnam Style” or Ylvis’ “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) while on the go, without eating up all your cell phone data or adhering to staggering video feeds that pause every five seconds without warning. Or maybe you just want to compile those cute, cuddly, can’t-get-enough-of-them cat videos for your personal enjoyment when your Wi-Fi is on the fritz or suffering from poor bandwidth issues.
Should you decide to trudge the grey area that is downloading YouTube videos for your untethered enjoyment, let us be your guide. Tempting? Yes. Legal? Not necessarily. Either way, here’s everything you need to know to about downloading YouTube videos. Additionally, check our top picks for the best free video converters and the best free media players, or our comprehensive guide on how to convert MP4s to MP3s if you’re looking to ditch the video in favor of greater portability.
This guide has been updated since it was originally published to reflect new software releases.
Choose the software
While YouTube is undertaking a pilot project to allow content owners the ability to make their content legally downloadable for free or for a small fee, the bulk of videos on the website are not as fortunate. Luckily there are a handful of software programs – from popular browser add-ons to stand-alone programs – that will allow you to download videos regardless of whether the content owner has made the video available.
NOTE: See disclaimer at the end of the article for the legality of downloading YouTube videos.
Some websites, browser add-ons, and programs simply take the URL associated with a particular video and download the videos in their original Flash format (FLV). However, most will convert the files into a more accessible format such as AVI or MP4 so you’re able to play them in the media player or device of your choice. The following are some of our top contenders and suggestions for the ultimate YouTube video downloader. Remain on the lookout to avoid installing any bundled toolbars or additional malware during installation, most of which can be opted out of by simply unchecking an accompanying software box during installation.
YTD Video Downloader (Windows/Mac OS X) — Free
YTD Video Downloader has come a long way since its early days as the simply-titled, “YouTube Downloader.” The software is quicker and more seamless than it ever was, offering a barrage of quality options for downloading YouTube videos — along with content from Vimeo, Facebook, Blip.TV, and more than 60 other video sites — as sole MP4 files to a designated directory of the user’s choice. Adorned with simple four-tab navigation and a baby-blue exterior, the the equipped interface is incredibly easy to utilize and understand, with additional conversion options housed directly within the application for converting the resulting content as a MOV, AVI, or other commonplace file format.
Download quality ranges between an atrocious 144p and high-quality, 1080p Full HD, but formatting options remain restricted to whichever format is available for the particular video in question. Additionally, YTD can even handle simultaneous downloads in real-time, and touts the ability to resume video downloads after temporary network loss, rendering the lengthy downloads immune to shoddy Internet connections and other bandwidth-inhibiting factors. Plus, it requires users do little more than copy and paste the desired video’s URL in the appropriate text field prior to clicking a massive Download button.
Check out the following video for an example of downloading YouTube videos with YTD:
Clip Converter (Web-based/Windows/Mac OS X — Free
Now officially out of the beta phase, Clip Converter is an easy solution to for all your YouTube downloading needs. The web-based utility is entirely free, requires no additional software to run and can quickly download videos from YouTube, Dailymotion, IMDB, Metacafe, Myspace and many others. The tool features all the standard format types — from MP3s to WMVs — and even includes an option to edit embedded ID3 tags.
Plus, there is a simple browser add-on for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and even Opera as well as a sleek desktop version for any operating system your machine may be running on, allowing users to bypass the Clip Converter homepage all together. Ads are relatively few and far between, no matter which platform your using, making it one the least invasive and streamlined tools of any YouTube converter out there. No wonder it’s garnered nearly 270,000 Facebook likes since its initial launch.
ClipGrab (Windows/Mac OS X) — Free
ClipGrab may not be the quickest or most reliable piece of software on our roundup, but what it lacks in sheer speed it makes up with an affable download tutorial and commendable download options. Once downloaded and installed, a process riddled with easily-avoidable malware, the software will automatically input detected links when you copy them. The popular application handles content from YouTube and Vimeo to Dailymotion and Myspace, along with the bulk of other video websites populating the Web. Although the software doesn’t obviously, or officially, support the wide girth of video-downloading sites, the program’s advanced video-recognition system allows users to to download from thousands of sites not previously listed.
ClipGrab is clad in a sleek, minimalist design, with six format options available for adjusting the resulting video (MPEG4, MP3, WMV, OGG Theora, OGG Vorbis, and the original format). Furthermore, users can minimize the application within their system tray and search YouTube for their favorite clips from directly within the app’s home interface. Although it may not always produce the best quality video, it’s incredibly stable, self-explanatory, and simple.
VDownloader (Windows) — Free
As one of the flagship downloaders of the late 2000s, VDownloader has been making the rounds ever since early 2007. The interface can be overwhelming at first glance, but it’s fairly easy to navigate once you know you’re way around the software. Like TubeBox, the software features an extremely handy search tool that allows users to instantly scour YouTube, Daily Motion and Yahoo Video as well specified playlists, usernames and their own library. Output formats can be broadened to simple quality selections, such as “highest quality” and “smallest file size,” or narrowed to specific file types including those playable on the iPad and Nokia N800.
The program also monitors users’ clipboard, automatically pasting the video URL for downloading purposes whenever you copy it to your clipboard, and includes the ability to merge multiple clips into one for seamless playback and lengthier files. Other features, such as the built-in browser and DVD burner, give more advanced users several reasons to pick up the piece of freemium software. VDownloader isn’t overly flashy, but its packed with enough extras to make it stand on its own.
FSS Video Downloader (Windows) — Free
Lack of features often means light on footprint and FSS Video Downloader is no exception. The software is as basic as it gets, equipped with a single button users can utilize to paste their video URL from sites like Google Video, Facebook and YouTube before choosing their desired save destination and hitting the green Download button. Video format selection will vary from video to video based on availability, but common formats such as MP4, FLV, MPEG and 3Gp are typically available as download options for most videos. There are no additional features — not even an option to rename your new video file upon download completion — but the software works as intended with a minimalistic design and no ads.
Next page: Five more great pieces of software for downloading YouTube videos.