On YouTube, there are billions of hours of video.
Literally. That’s not even the most amazing fact about the site, which has been the go-to place for uploading and watching video since 2005. However, there are occasions when you truly want or need one of those videos on your computer or phone. When it comes to downloading YouTube videos, however, there is a side issue that must be addressed: Is it permissible?
Offline viewing of YouTube videos via unauthorised channels deprives Google and video creators of revenue.
There’s a reason YouTube has ads: it’s how people make money.
Obviously, stealing YouTube videos is a massive no-no. If you want to share a video, YouTube and most other video sites make it simple, with options ranging from embedding to emailing to social media sharing. Most of the time, you don’t need to download a video.
You, on the other hand, have your reasons. If you absolutely must download a YouTube video for yourself, not for distribution, and not to be a total douche-nozzle, here’s how.
Note: This story is updated on a regular basis as the tools used change.
Some of these modifications aren’t necessarily pleasant, such as software that has so many “extras” that antivirus software flags it as malware. The same is true for helper websites: a change in a site’s ad network might lead to malware difficulties.
We came up with a few conditions for inclusion to keep this from becoming a laundry list of apps and sites that can download YouTube videos. Services must include the following:
- Support 4K downloads even in the free version.
- Work with top three video sites: YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo.
- Download entire playlists or channels in a batch (on YouTube), at least with a paid version.
- Output to MP3 for audio (or offer companion software that does so).
- Have an interface that doesn’t suck.
- Not collect your personal data beyond your email address.
- Not contain malware. If there’s even a whiff of it in the air, even a PUP, it’s out.
YouTube Premium Downloads
Subscribers to YouTube Premium now have access to a brand new (as of September 2021) function. This is the premium version of YouTube that allows you to watch videos without advertisements. It now allows you to download videos.
There are some major warnings:
- This is a feature that is still being tested. Google will not make it publicly available until November 16, 2021 (an extension from the initial October 19 deadline).
- All videos you download have limit to a maximum resolution of 1080p or below. There will be no 4K.
- You can only try one experimental feature at a time (thus you can’t use this feature and the new “picture-in-a-picture on iOS” trial at the same time).
- The service will try to convince you to download the YouTube desktop app, which is free and optional, on your first download—which you may initiate by clicking the Download link under a video you view in Chrome, Edge, or Opera on the desktop.
The most important limitation is that this capability does not truly download a video to save on your computer indefinitely. It’s more analogous to the download function offered on Netflix and Hulu’s mobile apps, which allows you to save a streaming video to your local storage and watch it later. This isn’t a method for watching a video using a different player, such as VLC Media Player.
To get to the download, go to the YouTube hamburger menu and select Downloads to see a list of everything you’ve grabbed with your browser.
“Downloads will stay available as long as your device has an active internet connection at least once per 30 days,” according to the page.
You’ll have the most control over downloading web videos if you use third-party software. Typically, you paste the YouTube video’s URL into the application, and it downloads the highest-quality version it can locate. An MP4 file is typically used for videos in 1080p High Definition (HD) format. The file format for anything greater in quality—4K or 8K—is usually MKV.
It’s important to remember that the MKV file, also known as a Matroska, is a container—it could contain video encoded with any number of codecs. The VLC Media Player for Windows, which plays everything, is the foolproof way to play them all.
Here are some of the top downloaders available.
Free; Windows, macOS, Linux
VLC Media Player is mentioned above since it’s a terrific application for Windows users that can play almost every type of media ever created. It turns out that it can also download YouTube videos, however in a complicated manner.
(If you have any issues with it, you may need to reinstall VLC and clean your cache to get it to 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 “Source”—copy the URL you find in that box.
Return to your browser and enter the URL into the address bar—a it’s temporary web address that will expire eventually—to begin watching the video. When you’re watching the movie on your browser, you’ll notice a button to save the file to your computer.
Even if the original YouTube broadcast was accessible in 1440p or 2160p, it appears that VLC will only save your file in 1080p and not any higher (aka 4K). It won’t even convert video to another format. You’ll need the desktop program listed below to access those choices.
Free or $15 for lifetime license on 3 computers; Windows, macOS, Ubuntu Linux, Android
4K Video Downloader (4KVD) is a multilingual video downloader. There are no ad traps here. In a simple interface, the software does exactly what it says: it takes films up to 8K in resolution and downloads them to a variety of formats. To start, simply copy a YouTube URL and paste it into the Paste Link box.
Subtitles, whole playlists, and all of the videos in a channel to which you subscribe will all be grabbed by 4KVD.
The sites that are supported are limited to the top names in the industry, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and a few more, but that should meet the majority of your needs. To keep the lights on, it displays a giant banner advertisement. And the free version limits you to 30 downloads each day.
In order for my test video to download in 4K, I had to change the format from MP4 to MKV. The 3-minute, 229.7MB file for the movie trailer was downloaded in roughly 1 minute and 20 seconds by 4KVD. Because 4KVD reverts to 1080p HD by default, I did the same when downloading an Ultra High Definition (8K) playlist.
4KVD can do one-click downloads to your preferred format if you enable Smart Mode and its pre-sets.
The premium version is required if you wish to download more than 25 videos at once or subscribe to YouTube channels to automatically download the most recent videos.
VLC Media Player played the generated MKV files without a hitch.
You don’t even need the 4K YouTube to MP3 companion software because the program itself offers an option to extract audio to MP3 format.
Free; Windows and macOS (MacX YouTube Downloader)
The multilingual WinX from Digiarty claims to support downloads from 300+ user-generated content sites, including pornographic sites. Perhaps the most compelling selling argument of all is the assertion that “Malware, adware, spyware, or viruses are not present. It features a simple UI, but while installation, there are adverts for WinX’s premium service.
Copy and paste a YouTube URL (even a playlist) into the WinX program. All of the settings are checked by the “analyzer.” This tool attempted to default to the 1,920-by-1,080 MP4 version; I chose the 4K version (3,840-by-2,160 pixels) in WebM format, which is a subset of the MKV format—you can rename a.WEBM file to a.MKV and it will function perfectly.
There are choices in the settings to default to WebM at the highest resolution. Before you even click the download button, you can back up a number of videos. It took 2 minutes and 19 seconds to download the 4K 226.9MB file.
Free; Windows and macOS
The free 5KPlayer is much more than a downloader, although it does have a very good downloader built in. It’s a good start to promise no malware, advertisements, or plug-in requirements.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the few I tested that requires you to register with your name and email address—you’ll need to do so to use the full download feature across 300+ sites. You may still get 4K videos from YouTube without having to register.
When downloading, the application tries to conceal some information. When you paste a YouTube video’s URL into the analysis engine, it runs and only shows a few download possibilities.
To see more, click the gear icon, then the Show All option, and scroll down to see a 4K 3,840-by-2,160 WebM file.
The 227MB WebM test took an excruciating 6.5 minutes to download. It was possible to download playlists, but you had to alter the download parameters one video at a time. It’s difficult to return to the other videos in the playlist due to the confusing UI.
5K Player also has DLNA server playback, allowing you to watch videos you’ve downloaded on any device that supports DLNA, as well as AirPlay support for rapid playing to supported devices. Choose a video from the library to convert to MP4, MP3, or even ACC (the audio format preferred by iOS devices).
The player, on the other hand, didn’t appreciate playing back the excessively huge 4K file and had buffering issues (VLC didn’t have any issues with the same file).
Overall, there’s a lot to like about 5K Player, from the price to the capabilities, especially when seen as add-ons to a downloader. However, flaws with the interface and playback may cause you to look elsewhere.
Free trial with five downloads; then $9.95 per month, $15.95 per year, or $25.95 lifetime use; Windows, macOS
If it weren’t for the lack of free options, FoneGeek Video Downloader might have ranked higher on this list.
You can only download five videos for free before having to pay. Obviously, the only realistic pricing is roughly $26 for lifetime use.
For $10, you get one of the cleanest and fastest downloading interfaces I’ve ever seen. It took 1 minute and 16 seconds to download our test 4K movie as an MP4 file.
You can also pick whether to get the audio-only as a WebM or M4A file, or whether to get subtitles and even a thumbnail image. It’s a shame about the price, but there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee.
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