There are billions of hours of video on YouTube. Literally. And that’s hardly the most astounding statistic about the site, which has been the go-to destination for uploading and watching video since 2005. That said, sometimes, you really want or need to have one of those videos on your own computer or phone. But when the topic of downloading YouTube videos comes up, there’s a side subject that must be broached: Is it legal?
On the copyright front, as long as you’re downloading a video for your own personal offline use, you’re probably okay. It’s more black and white when you consider Google’s terms of service for YouTube, which reads: “You are not allowed to…access, reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise use any part of the Service or any Content except: (a) as expressly authorized by the Service; or (b) with prior written permission from YouTube and, if applicable, the respective rights holders.”
Watching YouTube videos offline through unofficial channels takes money from Google and video creators. There’s a reason YouTube runs ads: people make a living this way.
So, obviously, stealing video from YouTube is a big no-no. If you want to share a video, YouTube and most other video sites make it easy, from embedding to emailing to sharing via social networks. You simply do not need to download a video most of the time.
However, you have your reasons. If you must download a YouTube video—absolutely need to, just for yourself, and not for dissemination, and not to be a total douche-nozzle—here’s how.
Note: This story is updated frequently as the tools involved change regularly. Some of those changes are not always pleasant, such as software so full of “extras” it gets flagged as malware by antivirus tools. The same goes for the helper websites—a change in a site’s ad network can also create issues with malware.
To prevent this from becoming a laundry list of programs and sites that can download YouTube videos, we came up with a few rules for inclusion. Services must:
- Support Work with top three video sites: Download
Output to MP3 for audio
- Have an interface that
Not collect your personal dataNot contain malware
The programs, services, and sites in this story are all free of spam/virus/problems as of this writing, but caveat emptor. Big time. Especially if you’re not really emptor-ing.
Third-party software is where you will get the best control over downloading online videos. Typically, you paste the URL for the YouTube video you want into the program, and it downloads the highest quality version it can find. For videos in 1080p High Definition (HD) format, that’s usually an MP4 file. For anything higher in quality—4K and even 8K videos—the file format is typically MKV.
Note that the MKV file, also called a Matroska, is a container—the file could contain video utilizing any number of codecs inside. The fool-proof way to play them all is to use the VLC Media Player for Windows, which plays everything. (Read more about it below.) As for the downloaders, here are the best options.
VLC Media Player
Free; Windows, macOS, Linux
I’ve mentioned the VLC Media Player above because it’s a fantastic tool for Windows users that plays back just about any media ever created. It turns out, it also has the ability to download YouTube videos, albeit in a convoluted way. (If you run into any problems with it, you may need to do a full re-install of VLC and clear your cache to make this work.)
Copy a URL from a YouTube video, then open up VLC. From the Media menu select Open Network Stream(Ctrl+N) and paste in the URL. Click Play. When the video is playing, go to Tools > Codec Information. There is a box at the bottom called “Source”—copy the URL you find in that box.
Multi-lingual 4K Video Downloader (4KVD) is frequently updated and features clear download links on the program’s website; no ad traps here. The software does what it advertises in a simple interface: grabs videos up to 8K in quality and downloads to plenty of formats. Just copy a YouTube URL and click the Paste Link button to get started. 4KVD will even grab subtitles, entire playlists, and all the videos in a channel to which you subscribe. The sites supported are limited to the big names like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and a few others, but covers most of what you need. It does display a large banner advertisement at the bottom to keep the lights on.
In tests, I had to make a switch from MP4 to MKV format to get my test video to download in 4K. 4KVD snagged the 3-minute duration, 229.7 Megabyte (MB) file for the movie trailer in about 1 minute and 20 seconds. 4KVD defaults back to 1080p HD, so I made the same switch when downloading4K Video Downloader If you enable the Smart Mode and its pre-sets, 4K Video Downloader can perform one-click downloads to your favorite format. If you want to download more than 25 videos at a time or subscribe to YouTube channels to instantly download the latest, that requires the paid version. Playback of the resulting MKV files via VLC Media Player was flawless.
The program itself has an option to extract audio to MP3 format, so you don’t even need the 4K YouTube to MP3 companion software.
Digiarty’s multi-lingual WinXclaims to allow downloads from 300+ sites with user-generated content—including adult sites. Perhaps the biggest selling point of all is the claim that “There is no malware, adware, spyware or virus. 100% clean.” It has a clean interface, but there are ads for WinX’s premium service during install.
Copy a YouTube URL (even for a playlist) and launch the WinX software. The “analyzer” checks all the options. This tool tried to default to the 1,920-by-1,080 version in MP4; I picked the 4K version (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) in WebM format, a subset of the MKV format—you can rename a .WEBM file to a .MKV and it’ll work fine. In settings there are options to default to WebM at the highest resolution. You can set up a number of videos to back up before you even click the download button. The 4K 226.9MB file took 2 minutes and 19 seconds to download.
There are no options for downloading closed captions. That’s another strike. But WinX makes up for it by supporting so many download sites and having a price equal to nothing.
That said, with Android it is possible to install apps without going through Google. For example, InsTube – Free Video and Music Downloader for Android can only be found at InsTube’s site. Download the APK (Android application package) file to sideload on an Android device. Find it in your device’s downloads and click toinstall. (You may have to go into your security settings and enable “Unknown sources.”)
On iPhones and iPads, you’d think there would be no such restriction since Apple and Google aren’t exactly the best of pals. But on the apps I have tried, not only wouldn’t they download from YouTube, they’re not even available for long. One of those apps said in its description, “downloading from YouTube is prohibited due to its Terms of Service.” Apple is ensuring that app makers play by the rules—even Google’s rules.
Chances are, the minute you find an iOS app that can download YouTube videos, it will get “fixed” or banned. The only real option is to jailbreak your iPhone and use sideloaded apps that download what you want.
There are workarounds. One is using a free iOS file manager app like Documents by Readdle. Use the Safari browser to visit a YouTube video, and use the Share option to find Copy Link. Then go back to Documents, and use the built-in browser in the app to surf to a video download helper site. Paste the link into the form (hold your finger down on it until you get the “Paste” menu to pop up). The site will give you the links to download, and you can save the file to Documents. Hold and drag the file up, until you’re back on the main screen, then drag it to the Photos folder. You’ll need to give Documents permission to access Photos the first time. You can then access the video like you would any video taken on the phone or tablet—in the Photos app.
How to Download YouTube Videos in 1mint
Another workaround: Go back to the desktop and try AnyTrans ($39.99 for a single computer), a file manager for iOS devices that has an integrated downloader supporting 900 sites, including YouTube and Facebook. It’ll transfer the videos to the iPhone for you over the USB cable. Even if you don’t pay for AnyTrans, the download option remains and is free forever.
Want a truly unique way to “download” a video? Developer Anton Gera created the YouPost extension for the Google Chrome browser to turn a YouTube video into an “article.” It grabs all the subtitles, in whatever language you prefer, and places them into a browser page with select screen grabs from the videos as illustration. If the video doesn’t have subtitles, it’s not going to work. The better the subtitles, the better the article, of course; auto-generated subtitles come in like run-on-sentences by someone who doesn’t really speak the language.