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YouTube downloads now being tested — what you need to know

YouTube's logo is in a window on a MacBook on a desk that's very neatly arranged
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There is a lot of demand to know how to download YouTube videos, and YouTube appears to be fully aware — and ready to actually allow it. The only problem with this legal way to download YouTube videos is that there are a few caveats. 

This news comes from tipsters writing into Android Police, who revealed that certain members of YouTube Premium — the service offering an ad-free YouTube experience with offline downloads on mobile devices — have access to this new feature as a part of its Labs tests. 

Unfortunately, not all YouTube Premium members have the feature, as we just checked, and it's not there. That may be because the tipsters are reporting in from India and France, and YouTube may be testing this feature out in specific regions. Android Police claims, though, that "it appears to be available widely elsewhere".

To check for yourself, navigate to the address http://youtube.com/new while signed into your YouTube Premium account, and see if the Labs feature "Download videos from your browser" is available. The only Labs feature available when we checked is "Picture-in-picture in iOS," which has proved buggy (at best) in our testing.

The other big caveat — and this is probably what's going to stop this feature from replacing the shady services and sites and apps that let you download YouTube videos — is that you don't download actual files to your desktop or downloads folder. 

Instead, just like in the YouTube app, you can watch these videos in your browser at the address http://youtube.com/feed/downloads when you're offline. 

Analysis: What is YouTube up to?

It appears that YouTube is trying to find ways to stem piracy of creator-made content on desktop in the same way it does on mobile. Keeping things inside of the browser is similar enough to the in-app experience that we wonder why there isn't a YouTube app for Windows and macOS yet. 

If YouTube let you actually create .MP4 files of the videos on its site, we're pretty sure it would be stirring up a big fight with the people who post videos to YouTube. 

While YouTube Premium members don't see ads, the ability to save a video and watch it offline outside of the YouTube site (say, in the VLC video player) would likely lead to decreased views for YouTube videos. And that's something YouTube will clearly want to avoid.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.