If you’re a multimedia fan, you probably have a hard disk full of videos and songs. Keeping track of them all, playing them all, and managing them all can be tough. To help, we’ve assembled a selection of downloads that can do all that for you and more.
With these ten free and low-cost utilities, you can download videos from YouTube, download streaming audio, and even edit your own creations.
Read on to learn more about the programs, or see our “Downloads for Managing Your Media” collection for quick access to all ten applications.
Video Downloaders and Converters
The Web is full of great videos, from YouTube and countless other sites. The problem is, the videos stream to your PC, so in order to watch your favorites, you have to head back to the particular sites that host them. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could download the videos to your hard drive, so that you could view them whenever you want and send them to friends?
We’ve chosen two great video downloaders–one is a Firefox add-on and the other is a stand-alone program that works specifically with YouTube. In addition, we found a very good tool for converting videos into assorted formats so that you can view them on any device. And all three programs are free.
Any Video Converter Free Version
Just about any device these days–an iPod or another MP3 player, a cell phone, a PlayStation Portable–can play video. But what do you do when you have videos on your PC that you want to play on those devices? PC formats won’t necessarily play on the devices; and even when they do, their dimensions are often wrong.
Any Video Converter Free comes to the rescue. It converts video files into many different formats, so you can make downloaded videos playable on various portable devices. It even will download YouTube videos for you.
Converting videos is exceptionally easy: You just select a video or videos, choose the desired format, and click the Encode button. That’s it–the video is then ready for transfer and playback.
Download Any Video Converter Free Version| Price: Free
With this free Firefox add-on, not only can you download and save videos from popular Web sites, but you can also convert video files from one format to another.
The conversion function is particularly important because downloaded videos from YouTube (and often from other sites) are in the .flv format, which few media apps will play.
To convert videos, you’ll have to download another program called ConvertHelper, but DownloadHelper has details on how to do that. When you see a video online that you want to save to your local disk, simply press a hot-key, and Video DownloadHelper does the rest.
Download Video DownloadHelper| Price: Free
If you’re looking to download videos exclusively from YouTube, and you need to convert the clips for watching on your iPod or cell phone, or to change them to another video type, then you’ll want YouTube Downloader instead of Video DownloadHelper.
YouTube Downloader runs as a small applet, and is exceedingly simple to use. You just copy the URL of the YouTube video into it (you can find the URL in the upper right of the YouTube video page), and then tell the program to do its work. You can choose the destination folder and name the downloaded video too.
Conversion is similarly straightforward: After you choose the downloaded file you want to convert, select the download format, and click OK, the applet does the job.
You can convert to many different portable-device formats, including for the iPod, iPhone, cell phones, and PlayStation Portable, as well to as common PC formats such as MPEG and Windows Media (.wmv). Given that all this is free, what’s not to like?
Note that when you install this software, by default it will install the Yahoo Toolbar and make Yahoo your default search engine. If you don’t want that to happen, make sure to uncheck the appropriate boxes before installation.
Download YouTube Downloader| Price: Free
Audio and Video Editing
Interested in not just being a consumer of multimedia but also editing it or creating it? We have what you need. Here are two no-cost programs that can handle your multimedia projects, one for audio and the other for video.
This powerful, free, open-source tool is great for creating, editing, and mixing audio. After you record your audio with Audacity, you need to edit it, and the program offers a surprisingly robust set of tools in that regard–in all likelihood, it has more horsepower than you actually need.
Among other features, it lets you add any of several dozen sound effects, and provides a powerful mixer as well. The program works with files in the MP3, .wav, AIFF, and Ogg Vorbis formats.
What can you do with it? For starters, you can cut and paste sections of a recording, or delete entire sections. You can use fades and other effects, and mix an unlimited number of tracks.
You can even create your own “soundscapes” by generating sounds and mixing them. All kinds of great features make this software ideal for audio engineers, as well as for anyone who just wants to play around with sound.
Download Audacity| Price: Free
If you’re involved in processing video, try this piece of open-source software. It’s well suited for cleaning up, editing, and trimming. You can change the color depth, frame rate, and compression, as well as crop video and remove and replace audio tracks without altering the video. VirtualDub does an excellent job of capturing video too.
The program has far more sophisticated capabilities as well, but overall it’s more appropriate for basic tasks than for true, in-depth video editing. Nevertheless, it’s free and it does the job. The only drawback is that it doesn’t handle Windows Media (.wmv) files.
Download VirtualDub (32-bit version)| Price: Free
Download VirtualDub (64-bit version)| Price: Free
Media Players, Managers, and Burners
For anyone passionate about digital media, the main problem is figuring out how to organize a burgeoning audio and video collection, one that possibly encompasses many different file formats, some of which might not even play on the PC’s current setup.
We’ve collected a few media players and managers that will play any format you wish, and they can keep your files tidy as well. And if you need to burn files to CDs or DVDs, we’ve chosen a great burning utility too.
There’s an entire world of media players outside of your PC–most notably, CD players and DVD players. You’ll certainly want to enjoy your digital media on those devices on occasion. What to do?
You need to burn your music and video to disc, and to do that you need good burning software. Express Burn has plenty of features to make burning easier. This program can burn music and data CDs, video and data DVDs, data HD DVDs, and data Blu-rays. It can also do disc-to-disc copying, in a flash.
As you add media to discs, you can see how much space is left, so you can be sure everything fits. Adding and removing data, or audio and video, is easy. And when you burn audio CDs, the program normalizes the tracks so that they all come out at the same volume.
Note that this version is shareware and costs $27 to register. A free version is available as well, but it doesn’t have all the features of the for-pay version.
Download Express Burn| Price: $27 (shareware)
GOM Media Player
Here’s an excellent media player that can handle a wide variety of formats. Thanks to its flexibility, you don’t have to muck around with installing extra video or audio codecs (in addition to supporting all the usual video formats, it also accepts DivX, .flv, and XviD).
It has a lot of playback-enhancement features too: You can, for instance, change the brightness, contrast, and saturation when watching videos, and you can use its audio equalizer to improve the sound.
The software goes out of its way to make sure you get the best viewing experience. When you install the program, it asks how you plan to use it: for general-purpose viewing, for high-quality displays (if you have a powerful graphics card and a high-resolution monitor), or for TV output.
The installer also asks about your audio setup–whether it’s 2-channel, 4-channel, or 5.1-channel, for example–so that it can adjust appropriately to your listening environment. Among its other unique features are an ability to play corrupted or broken video files and a screen-capture function.
Download GOM Media Player| Price: Free
If you’re looking for software that doesn’t just play media but also helps you find and manage your files, create playlists, and do much more, the free jetAudio Basic is a great bet.
On top of its ability to play many kinds of audio and video files, it can burn CDs, rip music from CDs, and record music from incoming sources. It also features an Internet radio player that includes dozens of preset stations; with the player, you can listen to radio stations from around the world, organized by country.
The application has all sorts of other features as well, including a utility that converts audio and video files to other formats. It also works with a variety of portable audio and video players.
Note that when you install this software, by default it will install the Yahoo Toolbar and make Yahoo your default search engine. If you don’t approve of that, uncheck the corresponding boxes before installation.
Download jetAudio Basic| Price: Free
People who like their media players compact yet still stuffed with features will want to give this free player a try. Unlike the bloated Windows Media Player, it won’t take up much RAM or system resources and bother you with functions you might never use.
It does, however, give you plenty of practical, convenient features. In addition to playing and managing your audio collection, it rips and burns CDs, plays and imports podcasts, and manages your downloaded media. It also lets you use audio effects, as well as EQ and DSP. And you can create custom playlists too.
One nice touch is that it does an automatic lookup of CDs and then populates your tracks with the correct tags, for easy organization and searching. It will even sync files between your PC and iPod, and with some cell phones as well.
Download Media Jukebox | Price: Free
VLC Media Player
It’s a brave new world of media, with dozens of formats that you’ve likely never heard of. Try playing many of them in your existing media player, and you’ll probably be out of luck.
Windows Media Player, for example, lacks support for many file types, and for some formats it insists that you install a special codec. But good luck finding that codec–many simply don’t exist. And even if they do, installing them and getting them to cooperate with Windows Media Player isn’t a walk in the park.
The great, free VLC Media Player, in contrast, will play just about every format you can name, plus tons you’ve never heard of. It’s a simple, stripped-down program with not much of an interface and few bells and whistles–and that’s part of its strength.
It can’t manage media libraries, or help you buy music online, or show you wriggling and dancing graphics. All it does is play media, and it does that job well.
Its playback-control features include the ability to adjust the video image as you watch, as well as a graphic equalizer for tweaking audio effects. Because it’s such a minimalist program, it won’t hog RAM or system resources.
Download VLC Media Player| Price: Free