The Best Web Video Download Tools

Streaming web video is great and all, but every once in a while you find something that you just want to save and cherish for always. If your home Internet connection is as unreliable as mine you’ll understand what I mean. There are a bunch of web sites and little apps to help you save hard copies of web videos, but perhaps due to their teetering on the edge of violating video hosts’ TOS, they are less than user-friendly. So yesterday I decided to go through them all and figure out which ones are the best.

To start with, I tried to eliminate services that spew out overwhelming ads or restrict themselves to YouTube. After that, the tools fells into one of four categories: URL-entry sites, Firefox extensions, userscripts and software downloads. Among them, the trade-off seems to be convenience vs. power.

URL-entry sites: KeepVid is perhaps the best known of this bunch. When you find a video you want to save, you copy the URL and paste it into KeepVid, which returns to you a link for downloading FLV or MP4 versions. To actually get them to your desktop, you have to right-click save and rename the file extensions. KeepVid also offers a drag-to-install toolbar button — convenient, but it still doesn’t save you the renaming hassle. Another option, ClipNabber, supports an even wider variety of video hosts. I also saw recommendations for VideoDownloader, but it seems to be error-prone.

Firefox extensions: These are much more powerful, especially for sites where the unique URL for each video isn’t obvious. I liked Video DownloadHelper, which gives you a small icon that rides along in your toolbar and wakes up every time you navigate to a page that has video. It also allows you to download multiple videos at once. Here‘s a page with tons of user-submitted tutorial videos about how it works. Sothink Media makes a Firefox extension too, and comes with its own FLV player.

Greasemonkey and other userscripts
: If you don’t want to deal with a bookmarklet you can do a little more work to get a download button to appear right on video pages. Download Video is a script that works for a variety of video sites. However, it doesn’t currently seem to be working on YouTube, and neither does this YouTube-specific script. For now these probably aren’t a good bet because they’re too glitchy.

Software: If you’re really serious about this (which I’m not) you might want to leave the browser and install a separate application for the specific task of downloading Internet videos. Sothink Media makes one of these for Windows but you only get 30 days free before you have to pay $30. It also captures any video you come across, which in this day and age of video banner ads, is overkill.

DVDVideoSoft’s app is full-service, but it only works for YouTube and on Windows. Get Tube is a Mac alternative, but it also works only for YouTube. RealPlayer‘s solution is a bit of a hybrid; the new version of its player slaps a button on videos around the web à la the Greasemonkey options, but then whatever you download is locked into the whole RealPlayer system. Vixy also looked promising but I couldn’t get it to work.

So now that I’ve completely overwhelmed my test computer with doodads and plugins, I would say my favorite of the day was the Firefox extension Video DownloadHelper. Tiny, quiet and powerful works for me.