What a great service YouTube is. It’s all too easy to lose sight of how revolutionary it was when it first launched. It broke all kinds of rules and expectations of how we watch video, and how we relate to its distribution. It opened up broadcasting, allowing anybody at all with a video recording device to easily and quickly make their videos available to anybody, anywhere.
YouTube also did something curious to how we consume news: just about any story that hits the headlines is likely to have an accompanying video on YouTube. Remember when Michael Jackson died? It didn’t take long for recordings of the ambulance leaving his home to start popping up on YouTube. For many of us, YouTube’s become a frontline news service – along with Twitter.
Unfortunately, YouTube is far from perfect. From the small-minded, snarky comments, right through to the frustrating use of Flash. Nowadays I rarely visit YouTube at all, and when I do, it’s just to get a URL for a video, or to jump from that page to a different service.
Our site is well-known for its long lists of tips and app recommendations. This article is different: I’m going to recommend just three ways to make YouTube better.
If you have to access YouTube via a browser – say you’re marooned on a Windows island for a few hours when someone sends you a link to a great new video – then Quietube immediately makes YouTube more usable. Just go to the site and read the simple instructions there:
You simply click-and-drag the link within the box onto your Bookmarks Bar. Don’t just click it – you need to hold down the mouse button and drag the link. Otherwise you’ll find that you’ve been Rickrolled – we’ve warned you!
So, say you wanted to watch Big Buck Bunny on YouTube: you would open YouTube and search for Big Buck Bunny, and receive a bunch of results. You would click on one of them, and you’d see something like this:
Now click on the Quietube link in your Bookmarks Menu, and it’s all change:
Click the ‘Black background’ link, and you get – uh – a black background:
It’s that simple. That’s all that Quietube does, but boy does it cut down on visual clutter and distracting, irritable chatter among the comments. Until recently, each page used to come with its own Short URL – you can see there’s a heading for that under the video – but for some reason that’s stopped happening recently. Having that made the job of sharing Quietubed videos even easier, but if you already have a bookmarklet for TinyURL, Bit.ly, or any of the other URL shortening services, then you’re set.
Now, take a look at what happened in iStat Menus as that video started playing on the original YouTube page – see the spike for Safari?
That’s what I mean about the resources YouTube requires. But wait…
Cathodique ($17.79) is a standalone YouTube player. It has built-in search, so you can find what you’re after from within the app itself. Once you’ve chosen a video to play, just double-click the preview on the left-hand side of the window and you’re away:
That SD at bottom-right is a menu from which you can choose to watch the standard quality or, where they’re available, 720p or 1080p versions of a video. The app also has a full-screen view, which is accessible from the controls overlay that displays when you mouseover the video as it’s playing.
Cathodique also has a bookmarklet, which you can use to launch the app from any YouTube page. So if a friend sends you a link, you can open it in your browser as usual, and then click on the bookmarklet and Cathodique will open to that video. You can close your browser window and watch in peace.
You’re much less likely to be disturbed by the sound of your Mac’s fans blowing, for one thing. Cathodique uses QuickTime to display its videos rather than the Flash player in your browser, so it’s much lighter on your system. Take a look at this comparison from the developer’s website:
That’s good news for a bunch of reasons – perhaps most importantly because your laptop’s battery is going to keep going quite a bit longer. Cathodique is not free, but if you spend a lot of time watching videos on YouTube, it’s certainly worth the (pretty low) entry-fee.
Another option you have is to download videos from YouTube and play them back on your machine. There are several different ways of doing this, but some require multiple steps to download and convert the videos into forms that you can watch on an iPhone or other device.
With all the time it takes to download and then convert, it’s probably not something you would do with just any video, but there certainly are times that you see a video that you’d like to keep to watch again later – say when you’re facing a long train journey and you just know you’re going to need to see a laughing baby to perk you up after a few hours…
Videobox ($15) is one app that does the job well, and makes it simple to get your YouTube fix offline, or save that special video for posterity. You start by dragging the URL of the video you want to download into Videobox’s main window – from your browser, an email message, or anywhere else:
The app then quickly identifies the video and gives you information about its encoding and the size it’ll be when downloaded. If it has any problems locating the video, it will open a mini-browser window and ask you to press play – it usually then manages to identify the video.
Those buttons alongside the video details – the globe, downward-pointing arrow, x, and magnifying glass – open the page in your browser, start the download-and-convert process, cancel, and show you the file in Finder once the processing’s done. When you click the arrow, you’ll see a panel from which you can choose where the file’s saved to, and the conversion settings to be used:
Click Save, and the download begins, followed by the file conversion. This process can take quite a while, so you can go make yourself a cup of tea.
On your return you will find your video file all ready for playing in QuickTime, VLC or your video player of choice.
So that’s a quick walkthrough of three tools that go some way to making YouTube better. These are just the services and apps I use; there are other options available – if you have any favourites, please let us know in the comments. Or perhaps you simply disagree, and think that YouTube’s fine just as it is – let us know!