Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Capture Flash video without an extension in Safari

Apple just released an update to Safari (5.0.1) that finally turns on extensions as a feature and catches the browser up to the likes of FireFox and Chrome. They’ve even released a handy dandy extensions gallery. However, before you go looking for an extension to allow you to download Flash video, why don’t you explore some of the built in capabilities of Safari on the Mac.

For instance, one evening I was sharing a YouTube video with my daughter and it stuttered a bit due to bandwidth issues. It was annoying. I told her I would just download it and she could watch it without interruption when it had finished. She was surprised that I was able to do this without any magical ninja browser extensions. I assumed everyone knew how to do this with Safari. Guess not, so keep hit the link below and behold the magic that is the Safari Activity window!


Never heard of the Activity window? It’s okay, you are probably not the only one. So let’s see how to use the Safari Activity window to download a video for offline viewing and in the process you’ll learn more about what this feature is and how it can be used. If you want to follow along, let’s download one of my amazing, spectacular and informative Technical Sketching videos (*blushing*).

Downloading Video:
  • Open Safari
  • Enter the following URL or click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxilC8rbZOc – My Howto: Intro to Technical Sketching - Tools of the Trade video will be displayed (yup...it’s okay to download this video, I own it and am giving you the rights...so knock yourself out)
  • After the video begins playing in Safari, activate the Activity window using the following pull-down menus:

    File | Window | Activity
  • The Activity window will appear as shown in the image below.
  • With Activity window open, locate the flv (Flash video) file by reviewing the Status column as shown in the image above (click for larger view if necessary)

    NOTE: The file is normally easy to locate since the value in the Status column changes as the video is streamed to your Mac. If the video is short, by the time you fire up the Activity window you may not notice a changing value. In this case, look for a larger file in the 1-5 Mbs size.
  • Once you have located the flv stream, double-click on that entry in the Address column using your mouse - Safari will display the Download window, as shown below, and begin downloading the stream to your default download location

That’s all there is to it! Pretty easy huh? Now the tough part. How do I play the video? For most people this is won’t be an issue if you are video codec savvy. For those of you not as video savvy, let me offer the following quick recommendations to get your Mac up to speed so you can play this and other odd video files formats. These tips won’t have the same level of detail as the previous steps, so just drop a comment and let me know if you need additional assistance.

Playing flv Video:
I offer two free solutions to playing your freshly downloaded flv video, Perian and VLC. First Perian:
  • Download and install the free Perian - Perian provides Quicktime with additional codecs (plugins, extensions, whatever makes the most sense to YOU) that allow it play all kinds of video (including flv files) - it is one of the first things I install on my Macs
  • To view the flv, you can simply fire up Quicktime and load the file or, and this is my personal favorite, click once on the file and hit the spacebar to fire up QuickLook as shown in the image below

Don’t want to use Quicktime or not fond of Perian? Try VLC:
  • Download and install the free VideoLAN Client (VLC) - As they claim, "It plays everything!" and I agree
  • After installation, start VLC and then locate the file to play as shown in the image below - VLC does more than play local video, so you might want to explore some of it’s other features as well
Summing Up:
2 + 2 = 4 and it is extremely easy to download video from YouTube, and other sites that use flash video, using Safari with nary a plugin. Give the steps in the tech note a shot and let me know if this solved your flv download woes. Just remember to download responsibly and not to harm the work of others (there...that should get the lawyers off my back!). Found an error? Read #7 on the About Doc page.