Notes from the Online Video Underground

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7 Savvy Tips for the Web Video Underground

2. Save Video Streams, Grab Hulu, and Beat Megavideo's 72-Minute Limit

Savvy video fans are using a number of ways to save Internet video streams to their hard drive.

The easiest option is to use a free site such as KeepVid: Simply paste in a video's URL, and you'll receive a download link. Vixy.net and Zamzar work in much the same way, but they can also convert video into variety of formats, including MP4 for iPods and iPhones.

Such sites don't support all video services, and that's where browser plug-ins like NetVideoHunter, Orbit Downloader, or Video Download Helper come in. These add-ons allow users to download the Flash video streamed on a Web page, even if it isn't completely buffered. Some people also use these tools to work around Megavideo's limit of 72-minutes streaming before being locked out for an hour. Other tools we've seen employed for the same purpose include HotSpot Shield and Mega Video Downloader FLV CAP.

You can also give your Web browser a speed boost with the DownThemAll Firefox extension. This feature-packed download manager integrates beautifully with Firefox, and can accelerate browser downloads.

Replay Media Catcher
As for recording Hulu shows for offline viewing, PC World blogger Rick Broida tested Applian Technologies' $40 Replay Media Catcher software by recording Jim Carrey's Liar, Liar from Hulu. He says that it "was incredibly easy--press the record button, then start and pause the video--but it took a while to finish because Media Catcher records [whatever is on your screen] in real time."

If you've ever let a video completely buffer only to have the browser crash before you've watched it, here's one last utility just for you. VideoCacheView automatically scans your IE and Firefox cache for temporarily saved (recently buffered) Flash video, and then lets you copy the .flv files to another location on your hard drive. Nice one.

3. Automate Downloads of TV-Show Torrents

Miro HD Video Player
So what's the best way to manage all of your Web video goodness? My personal preference is the
Miro HD Video Player. This beautifully designed freebie handles Web video feeds, downloads torrents, and is optimized for HD video playback. It embeds VLC to play pretty much everything, including .flv Flash files. Miro also has a built-in legally sourced content guide, and it can bookmark streaming sites like Hulu.

But here's the kicker: Some folks are using sites like tvRSS to easily copy an RSS feed of available torrents for their favorite TV show, and then subscribing to that feed with Miro. This trick enables automatic downloads of the show's entire season to date, or even just new episodes. Other BitTorrent clients like µTorrent and Vuze can use the same RSS feed, but Miro does so with style.

Simplifying things further still is Ted (Torrent Episode Downloader). It makes creating a sort of "BitTorrent season pass" stupid-simple. Users choose from a huge predefined list of shows, and Ted works with any third-party BitTorrent client to download episodes as they become available.

4. Reduce Your Peer-to-Peer Risks

First and foremost, it's vitally important to scan thoroughly everything you let onto your hard disk. That golden rule aside, you should also keep a few other things in mind.

Know your client: The application you use can itself present a malware problem--even before you've downloaded any files. BitTorrent clients known to include spyware include Bitroll, Torrent101, and TorrentQ. The popular file sharing app eMule suffers from a similar problem; though the official eMule client is malware free, the project's open-source nature has allowed spyware-ridden clones to ride on its coattails.

If you're just starting out, it's easiest to stick to popular clients such as the lightweight µTorrent, Vuze (formerly Azureus), or the excellent Miro (discussed above). For the curious, Wikipedia has a detailed comparison of many BitTorrent clients and file sharing apps, complete with known spyware/adware concerns.

Use IP filters: Using a free IP blocklist can help protect against bogus downloads, anti-peer-to-peer outfits that might track you, malware, and more. PeerGuardian is a free stand-alone blocklist program, while Vuze has a simple plug-in called SafePeer, and µTorrent supports blocklists with a little tinkering.

Stick with the crowd: For finding video to watch, one starting point I'm happy to recommend is LegalTorrents; it actually has some interesting, and plainly legal, content.

But if you must wade through murkier waters for your video, stick with popular sites that have communities, like the infamous Pirate Bay. Comments on a torrent, and sometimes links to file previews, can save you the hassle of dealing with fake files and help you avoid malware. Though Vertor lacks comments, it verifies, virus-scans, and displays screen grabs for the video torrents it indexes.

Generally speaking, keep downloads at their speediest by looking for torrents with the best active seed-to-peer ratio. Seeds are uploaders who have a complete copy of the download and are still allowing others to download from them, while peers are downloaders like you who also share the parts of the file they've downloaded so far. Mix that approach with a preference for popularity: Torrents don't usually become too popular if they're fake, or stuffed with malware. On a related note, LimeWire fans should check out Credence; this client builds on the open-source code of LimeWire to implement a reputation system that helps users avoid corrupt, damaged, or mislabeled files.

Exercise codec caution: If you use VLC Player (or if you've installed a trusted codec pack such as K-Lite or CCCP), then you should be extremely skeptical when a video wants to download a new codec before it will play or stream. Avoid potential codec-born malware by searching Google to get the straight dope on the particular codec being requested.

Next: Try Browser-Based Torrent Tools

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