YouTube: How to save, play, and convert videos in Mac OS X

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Technology
December 15th, 2006 • 10:29 am

Now that I finally have broadband (sort of), I can actually view YouTube videos and see what the fuss is all about. (Technically, it’s not impossible to play YouTube videos with a dial-up connection, but it is obviously painfully slow to load them.)

Immediately, my first urge was to try and save the videos I wanted to keep for viewing again later. And of course there is no obvious way to do this in the YouTube interface, because it’s not exactly something that they want to encourage. (As usual in this modern digital world, fair use no longer seems to be supported.)

I searched for solutions on the Web, and while I eventually found everything that I needed, I didn’t find easy instructions in a single place for the average Mac OS X user. So I thought I would make my own little contribution by summarizing the steps here.

First of all, if you want to keep a YouTube video, you need to get a local copy of the video on your hard drive. When you access a page with a YouTube video, your web browser actually does load the video file in its cache so that it does not have to download it again and again each time you want to play it. The video file stays in the browser’s cache as long as you keep the web page with the video open in the browser.

Unfortunately, with Safari in Mac OS X 10.4, there is no way to access the cache and retrieve the file that I am aware of. There is, however, an easy way to download the video as a file. All you have to do once you’ve loaded a YouTube video in a window in Safari is to bring up the Activity window (command-option-A or “Activity” in the “Window” menu) and then look for the item for that YouTube page in the Activity list.

Then you need to expand the item for that window and look at the list of various items loaded as part of the YouTube page. There will be one item that is much bigger than all the others and weighs several megabytes (the size of the video file), whereas all the other ones are small items in kilobytes. That’s the item you want. All you have to do now is to double-click on that item. This will effectively force Safari to re-download the video, but as a stand-alone file this time, and it will automatically be saved in your downloads folder as a file with a name like “get_video.”

Don’t let the name fool you. This is actually the video file you want. All you have to do now is to rename the file by giving it a name that describes its content, and then adding the “.flv” file extension. (“.flv” stands for Flash video, which is the video file format used by YouTube) Mac OS X’s Finder will ask you to confirm that you want to add the file extension. Just confirm it.

Now the question is, how do you play a Flash video file in Mac OS X? Much to my disappointment, I didn’t find any easy answers to that question. I did find a free piece of software called SWF Movie Player that is supposed to allow you to play such files, but in my experience it is a pretty poor piece of software. It crashes easily, and with the second Flash video that I tried to play with it, the audio track and the video track were completely out of synch. In addition, the video quality was pretty poor compared to the actual YouTube original. So I quickly gave up on this.

I suppose that it is probably possible to design a simple HTML page with the video file embedded in it and to play it in Safari by simply loading the HTML page (since Safari will then use the Flash plug-in to play the file), but that sounded too complicated to me. I wanted something simple. So I searched some more. I found a piece of free software called ffmpegX, which is a multi-purpose tool that reads all kinds of video formats and converts to all kinds of other video formats. I was able to open my Flash video files with this tool and to play them by using the “Preview” function, but it worked pretty poorly, with repeated crashes, and a rather deficient user interface. Again, it was too painful for what I wanted to do.

After more searching, I ended up finding a piece of free software called iSquint. Like ffmpegX, it’s not actually a player. It is a small utility that is supposed to convert YouTube videos to a format compatible with your video iPod. What it actually does it convert Flash video files to MPEG4 video files. But the process is so easy and so quick for small video clips that it effectively works for me as a player as well as a converter. I just open the Flash video with iSquint and convert it with the default setting, et voilà. I now had a movie file that I could open and play with QuickTime Player, and the quality was just as good (or as bad, as if often the case) as the YouTube original.

So, based on my experience, all you need to save, play, and convert YouTube videos in Mac OS X is Safari and iSquint. Just follow the instructions above and you’ll be able to fairly use YouTube videos as much as you’d like.

5 Responses to “YouTube: How to save, play, and convert videos in Mac OS X”

  1. Chris Grande says:

    Try its lets you play flv files directly in QuickTime player.

  2. ssp says:

    Haven’t actually tried it, but I saw this on MacUpdate the other day which seems to do what you’re interested in.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Chris: Thanks! The correct link is actually, but it’s definitely a piece of software that works for playback of YouTube videos in QuickTime Player. And you can also export to a variety of formats, at least with QuickTime Pro, so it’s a complete solution. Terrific!

    ssp: I was trying to stay away from commercial software and keep things free :).

  4. Ant says:

    There’s also the UnPlug plugin for Firefox, which lets you download the flv file (and other embedded media, I think).

  5. tapuz says:

    I came across this app which will address all my needs when it comes out in a couple of weeks:

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