I often find it handy to be able to watch videos offline on my laptop or my phone, without the need to worry about an internet connection. However, I don't really watch enough YouTube to justify paying for the subscription fee, so I was curious to know whether it's possible to download and watch YouTube videos for free?
Can you watch YouTube offline?
You can watch YouTube offline by either subscribing to YouTube Premium or by using a free video downloader and a media player such as VLC, or nPlayer for mobile. Like YouTube Premium, nPlayer offers similar mobile features such as Picture in Picture.
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How to watch YouTube videos offline for Free
In this article I’ll demonstrate how you can do this absolutely free on both your computer and on mobile, without the need to pay for YouTube Premium.
That being said, there are two caveats. Firstly, it does require using a different app such as nPlayer or VLC to watch your videos. And, secondly, if you want to watch on your mobile, you’ll first need to download the YouTube videos to your computer and then transfer them over to the media player app before you can start watching.
If these two things don’t sound like too much of an inconvenience for the ability to watch YouTube offline for absolutely free then here’s how it works.
Install a Free Video Downloader
To download videos from YouTube I use 4K Video Downloader. There are a few of these video downloaders available. I’ve also tried AnyTrans, which has lots of nice features but displayed an error when downloading from YouTube.
I’ve never had any issues with 4K Downloader and it works on both PC and Mac. It is freemium software so there is a paid version but I find the free version does everything I need.
If you are on a PC, click on the installer and follow the prompts, and when finished you’ll need to restart your computer. On Mac, there’s no need to restart, just click on the installer, drag the app to your Applications folder, and away you go.
The next step is to find a YouTube video you wish to download. Having found one, copy the URL and back in 4K video downloader, click on paste link.
The app will parse the link and, all being well, display the video. You then get a choice of which resolution you want to download. I usually always opt for the best quality and save it to my Videos or Movies folder.
At this point, you can start watching your downloaded move straight away on your computer using VLC media player or something similar. If you prefer to watch your videos on your phone then read on...
Download a media player to your phone
Download and install the nPlayer Lite app from the AppStore. nPlayer Lite is the free version. You’ll notice there is also a paid version, which removes the horrible ads.
I choose this app purely because it does Picture in Picture. Personally, because of the ads, I prefer VLC which is also free, and doesn’t have ads but, sadly, doesn’t offer in Picture in Picture (PIP).
Picture in Picture allows you to continue watching a video while doing other things on your phone, such as replying to a message. I know... who has time to just focus on watching a video???
If PIP is not really essential to you, then use VLC instead for an ad-free experience. Or consider upgrading to the paid version of nPlayer to remove the ads.
Once nPlayer is installed, plug your iPhone into your PC or Mac using your lightning cable.
Having installed the app and downloaded our movie to our computer, the last step is to copy it to the nPlayer app and how you do this depends on whether you’re on a PC or a Mac.
PC users, if you haven’t already, you’ll need to install iTunes. Simply Google iTunes for Windows, download and install it.
Once installed, with your phone plugged into your PC and having trusted the computer, a phone icon should appear in the iTunes menu.
Click on the icon to view the details of your Phone, (this might benefit from a picture) then click on File Sharing from the menu and you should see nPlayer in the list of available apps. Click on nPlayer and then choose add file.
Browse to the YouTube video you downloaded and click open. You’ll see it start to copy over to the phone and when finished, you can eject your phone from iTunes and start watching your video.
Mac users, having downloaded your video, you can click on the ellipsis icon to display it in Finder. Plug your phone into your mac and having trusted the connection, it should appear as a location in your Finder menu.
Click on it, again choose trust, choose the Files tab, and then you can simply drag your saved YouTube video and drop it over the nPlayer app. Depending on the size of the video, be patient while it copies over to the phone.
Once complete it should appear under the nPlayer app in finder and you should also see it in the nPlayer app on your phone.
Activate Picture in Picture mode in nPlayer
Having downloaded the video to nPlayer you can now watch it offline. Unfortunately, before your video plays you have to sit through the horrible ad I mentioned at the start, which is why I prefer VLC over nPLayer.
However, unlike VLC, nPlayer does have Picture in Picture mode, which you can activate by clicking this little icon on the top right.
So that is how to download and watch YouTube videos offline without paying for a YouTube premium subscription. If you live in an area with iffy cellular mobile coverage or you have limited mobile data you may be interested in YouTube's recent updates to their mobile app.