Streaming producers don’t work in a vacuum, and one of the best ways to understand the best practices of other publishers on the web is to download and analyze the streaming files that they produce. I capture streaming videos a lot, exclusively to analyze the video files for research purposes. I use two primary tools to accomplish this, DownloadHelper (www.downloadhelper.net), which is available exclusively as a FireFox plug-in, and RealPlayer (www.RealPlayer.com), which works with any browser.
Since FireFox is my browser of choice, I use DownloadHelper the most. Once you download the plug-in, you capture a file by clicking an icon in the browser, which starts spinning once you start playing a video the plug-in can capture. You can save the video in its original format, which is typically what I do, or capture and convert the video to different formats, though the conversion program will insert a logo into the video until you pay about $30.00 to register the program. DownloadHelper is particularly useful with YouTube because it usually shows you the multiple files that YouTube creates when converting your videos.
I use RealPlayer when working with Internet Explorer or Chrome, or to try to download files that DownloadHelper can’t. Usually this doesn’t work, since neither program can reliably capture videos streamed by most streaming servers.
I’m not a big fan of the RealPlayer since it’s historically both bloated and intrusive, though recent versions tend to be a lot more polite, for example, asking before changing any preferences. Once you have RealPlayer installed, a Download This Video message appears above any video that the program can download; or you can right click the video and choose Download This Video to RealPlayer.
Once you’ve download the video, you can convert it to a range of different formats. You can convert to Apple H.264 format in the free SP player, or pay about $40 for additional H.264 related functionality, including encoding with Real’s H.264 codec. Since I use the files in their original format, I didn’t try either of these options.
Click the figure to see a full resolution version.
Before DownloadHelper and RealPlayer became available (or before I knew about them), I attempted to capture streaming files with Replay Media Catcher from Applian Technologies. I still try this program when DownloadHelper or RealPlayer don’t work, but typically, if neither of these programs are successful, Replay Media Catcher isn’t either.
Obviously, your ability to download and capture these videos doesn’t abrogate the copyright rights of their owners. I believe that all my activities fall within the Fair Use exception, since I don’t redistribute these videos in any way. I hope that anyone who reads this article feels and acts the same way.