A majority of today’s internet traffic consists of streamed video. YouTube alone accounts for a big chunk of that. Over 400 hours of content uploaded every minute, an average of 40 minutes watched per session, and greater reach in the 18–49 demographic than cable TV.
And then you have to consider other video streaming sites like Vimeo, Dailymotion, Metacafe, Vine, Twitch, etc. That’s a lot of data flowing around.
If your ISP caps your monthly data allowance, then video streaming can be expensive. You end up downloading a lot of repeat data every time you re-watch a video, and it can add up quick. It’s also a pain not being able to watch videos when your internet cuts out (or the video site goes down).
The solution is to download frequently-watched videos to your computer. You can re-watch them as many times as you want without wasting bandwidth. This is especially useful for educational and entertainment videos as they both tend to be highly re-watchable.
1. VideoGrabby (Web)
Supported sites: Facebook, Soundcloud, Vimeo, Vine, YouTube.
VideoGrabby is the simplest and most straightforward tool. We recommend it if you want a no-hassle option that requires a close to zero effort on your part. The trade-off is less flexibility as far as quality and downloading options go, but it’ll get the job done.
Just copy the URL of an online video and paste it into VideoGrabby. As soon as you do, two buttons show up: Record Video and Record Audio. The video option downloads as MP4 while the audio option downloads as MP3. (What’s the difference between MP3 and MP4?)
The quality isn’t superb but it’s certainly passable. If you scroll down to the bottom of the site, you can click HQ to switch to high-quality downloads, but I wasn’t able to get it working as of writing this.
2. Video DownloadHelper (Firefox, Chrome)
Supported sites: Dailymotion, Facebook, Instagram, Lynda, Twitter, Udemy, Vimeo, YouTube, and hundreds of other sites.
Video DownloadHelper is easily one of the most useful browser extensions you’ll ever install. It’s even simpler to use than the above-mentioned VideoGrabby, but the downside (if you can even call it one) is that you have to install it on your browser, which could slow down browser performance.
But, if you download a lot of videos on a day-to-day basis, Video DownloadHelper is worth whatever performance hit you might take, and in my experience the performance hit is negligible.
The extension adds a button next to your browser’s address bar. Whenever you come across an online video, you can just click the button to download any of the videos on the current page.
3. Freemake Video Downloader (Windows)
Supported sites: Dailymotion, Facebook, Liveleak, Veoh, Vimeo, YouTube, and dozens of other sites.
Freemake Video Downloader is one of the most popular video downloading tools out there. It’s completely free, easy to use, and relatively flexible as far as quality and format options are concerned. The one big downside is that it’s only available on Windows.
Videos can be downloaded in a handful of formats, including AVI, FLV, MKV, MP4, and WMV. Videos can also be downloaded in MP3 format if you only want the audio portion. The actual process only requires the URL of the video you want to download — just copy and paste it in.
Bundleware warning! When you run the installer, make sure you select Custom Installation. When you reach the “Install Additional Software” page of the installation wizard, make sure you click “Click here to customize the installation” on both the offers and uncheck ALL boxes! This will prevent bundleware from being installed on your system.
4. JDownloader 2 (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Supported sites: Nearly any site with streaming video.
JDownloader 2 is like Freemake Video Downloader but with a twist. You take the URL of any page that has a streamed video on it, paste it into the app, and it will scan the page for all the videos it can detect. You get to pick which of the detected videos you want to download.
The nice thing about JDownloader 2 is that you don’t need the direct URL of a specific video.Take a MakeUseOf article with ten videos, for example, and all them will be detected. This makes it very easy to capture several different videos at once.
Bundleware warning! When you run the installer, you’ll eventually come across a page that offers to install Bing Search or something else. On this page, the buttons will change to Decline and Accept. Make sure you click Decline! This will prevent bundleware from being installed on your system.
5. youtube-dl (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Supported sites: Dailymotion, Facebook, HBO, Metacafe, Vimeo, Vine, YouTube, and thousands of other sites.
youtube-dl is a tool for advanced users who are comfortable using the command line. If you prefer graphical interfaces, save yourself the headache and just use one of the ones listed above.
But if you’re okay with command line utilities, then youtube-dl offers the most flexibility of any video downloading tool. It’s complicated enough to have a non-trivial learning curve though, so prepare to read the documentation or else you’ll be lost.
Features include several video selection and quality parameters, playlist processing, download rate limit, batch video downloading, automatic naming of files, inclusion of ads (currently experimental), and downloading subtitles (for sites like YouTube).
As of now, the following formats are supported: 3GP, AAC, FLV, M4A, MP3, MP4, OGG, WAV, and WEBM.
A Last Resort for Capturing Online Videos
If you encounter a video that isn’t supported by any of the above tools, the last resort is to play the video in fullscreen mode and record your screen as it plays. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works in a pinch. Check out our favorite screen recorder apps to get started.
You can also use VLC to simultaneously play and record online videos as long as you’re able to get the direct URL of the video for playback.
Let us know which of these tools you found most interesting! And if there are any other ways to download online videos that we missed, please share them with us in the comments.
Originally written by Steve Campbell on September 28, 2010.