Note: The information below is now outdated, as the web sites veoh.com and hulu.com have changed the way they play FLV files in a web browser. As such, using the Orbit Downloader software (as described below) does not work. Upon checking various forum postings, other similar downloader apps also do not work for these video web sites.
Zune owners are always looking for that magic web site where they can conveniently download videos for their Zunes. Specifically, people are looking for TV Shows, Movies, and Music Videos for download. The problem is, there are no such sites on the Internet (at least no legitimate, legal sites). There are several sites that will allow you to view such videos in a web browser (such as youtube.com), however, you can’t easily or directly download these videos. I’ve found youtube.com does have an extensive database of various videos, but most of them are user-created and not full-length TV Shows or Movies.
Two web sites that specifically have TV Shows and Movies available for viewing are www.veoh.com and www.hulu.com. Most of the TV Shows are older episodes from the 60’s thru the 90’s, but they do have some current TV Shows available. For example, I missed an episode of New Amsterdam and found it on the veoh.com web site for viewing. Again, these web sites allow for viewing of videos, and not downloading onto your PC.
So, how can I download these videos for playback on my Zune? That’s the $100k question.
Downloading FLV Video Files
Web sites that stream videos (like youtube.com, veoh.com, hulu.com, etc), usually use FLV video files which can be played back in a web browser using common video plugins. The problem is, these web sites don’t have any provisions for downloading the FLV files. You can’t simple right-click on the video and try to download it (like you can with pictures and images on a web page). To get around this, a few resourceful people have created applications and plugins that can download a FLV file from a web server. Most of these “downloader” apps requires you to enter an http address string that specified the location of the FLV file for download, however, in some cases getting this http address string is difficult or impossible. For example, it’s nearly impossible to get such information from the veoh.com or hulu.com sites.
One such downloader application called Orbit Downloader actually examines the currently displayed web page and “sniffs” out available media data for downloading. It can identify the playing FLV video file’s location on the site’s web server and download that file to your PC. Once you figure out how to use the Orbit Downloader, you can easily and quickly download any FLV video file that is playing in the web browser.
Using The Orbit Downloader
The first step, is to download and install the Orbit Downloader program on to your Desktop PC. You can get the latest version from this web link.
After you install the Orbit Downloader, you’ll need to run the program in the background so that it can sniff out available web media data.
Next, bring up your web browser and visit www.veoh.com. On this site, search the TV Shows section for a video you want to download. In my example below, I found the video from the old TV Show called The Time Tunnel which I wanted to download. Near the top right corner of the video you’ll see a small gray down arrow icon (see figure below) which you need to double click to bring up the Orbit Downloader Grab++ application.
After clicking on the down arrow icon, you should see a Grab++ window as shown below. In this window, you’ll see all available media data that the Orbit Downloader application sniffed out from the current web page.
Next, click on the video displayed on the web page to play the video. As the video is playing, switch to the Grab++ window and watch what appears. You should see a list of media data items which are available for download. If you click the “Flash” link at the top of the window, it will only display Flash Videos in the list. You now need to select the item which appears to be the playing FLV file (it should be somewhat obvious). In the image below, you can see that I selected the first item which appears to be the playing FLV video that I want to download.
Once you’ve identified and checked the desired video file, click the Download button to start the downloading procedure. You should then see a window as shown below, which is the Orbit Downloader Queue:
In this window, you can verify that your selected FLV file is downloading. Now, once you’ve started the download procedure for a FLV file, you don’t need to continue watching it in the browser. You can search for another video file and download another video file if you wish. What I’ve done, is search for all the Time Tunnel episodes that I want and have them all downloading at the same time.
Comments Regarding FLV Files
Note, that these FLV video files are designed for streaming to a web browser for playback. As such, they will be of lower resolution and possibly lower playback frame rate. I’ve found that this isn’t a problem, since you want videos with a 320×240 resolution for your Zune device with a relatively low frame rate.
When converting any video file for playback on the Zune, it’s important to know the video frame rate of the source video file. If you have a video file with a frame rate of 24 fps and you convert it to a video file with 29 fps, you may notice that the playback audio isn’t in sync with the video displayed. You can always lower the frame rate from the original source file, but not increase it without having audio issues.
This is important to note, since some of the FLV files that I’ve downloaded from veoh.com and hulu.com are created with 24 frames per second (fps). I originally converted these files at 29 fps which produced out-of-sync WMV videos. Once I realized this, I use 24 fps for my conversions and the audio was back in sync.
So how can you tell if the FLV file you downloaded was created with 24 or 29 fps? The best way is to use the program called GSpot which will display the video and audio information for a selected video file. If I use GSpot for the Time Tunnel Video that I downloaded, I see the following:
GSpot tells me that this FLV file has the following attributes:
Resolution: 384×288, 382 kbps Video Rate, 18.55 fps, 64 kbps Audio / 44100 Khz Stereo
Now, the video rate and frames per second may not be exact values, but rather the average values for the entire video. But it should give you an indication to the rates used for this video.
I’ve also noticed that veoh.com and hulu.com seems to name their FLV files with a unique format that helps to identify this information. For example, the Time Tunnel video that I downloaded had this file name:
From the info in the file name, I can guess the following:
Resolution: 384×288, 416 kbps Video Rate, 23.976 fps, 64 kbps Audio
Again, the most important part of this is identifying the frames per second used in the FLV video file, as we need to match it with our subsequent video conversion.
Video Conversion for Zune
Ok, we now have the desired FLV file on our Desktop PC and we need to convert it to WMV format for our Zune. There’s lots of different FLV-to-WMV converters available on the Internet, but all of them will convert to the older WMV7 or 8 video codec format. Unfortunately, the Zune device needs the videos to be in WMV9 video codec format for syncing.
The solution that I came up with was the following:
1) Convert FLV file to AVI format
2) Convert AVI file to WMV9 format
I’d prefer to do the conversion in one step, but I couldn’t find any freeware applications that would do so and generate WMV9 files (in batch mode).
For step (1), I’m using a freeware application called Pazera Free FLV to AVI Converter 1.1. This application allows the user to customize the video settings and convert several files in batch mode. The interface is very straight foward, and you can easily convert several different files at the same time (with the same video settings). Below is the setup I used for the Time Tunnel FLV file:
Here I’ve selected to convert to an AVI file, and I’ve used WMV8 video codec and WMA2 audio codec. What is most important, is setting the frame rate to 23.976 fps to match the source video file.
Once the FLV file has been converted to AVI format, I play the video on my Desktop PC to verify the quality and audio/video syncing. If all is good, I proceed to step (2) to convert the AVI file to WMV (v9) format.
I use my favorite converter program, Windows Media Encoder 9, to do the final conversion. Using the WME Batch Encoder application, I select the AVI file as shown below:
For this conversion step, I use the same video profile (.prx) file that I use for all my video conversions. The settings for this conversion are as follows:
Resolution: 320×240, 700 kbps Video Rate, 30 fps, 128 kbps Audio Rate / 44100 KHz, Stereo
Now, using 30 fps here seems to contradict what I mentioned earlier about increasing the frame rate from the original source video, but doing so with Windows Media Encoder 9 doesn’t seem to be a problem. To be technically correct I could create a different video profile .prx file that uses 23.976 fps, but out of convenience I’m using the same .prx profile that I use for all my video conversions.
Once WME9 finishes the conversion, I should have a WMV video file with the WMV9 video codec that can sync to my Zune without transcoding.
The two-step conversion process can be a pain, but it is the only way I could find in converting FLV files to WMV (V9) format for my Zune. I wish that the WME9 program had the ability to handle FLV files as input, but unfortunately it can’t.
FYI, the Pazera Free FLV to AVI Converter program uses the public domain FFMPEG routines to do the video conversion (which is used by lots of different video converter programs).
The veoh.com and hulu.com web sites are excellent sources for TV Shows and Movies. For the most part, the FLV files are in 24 or 29 fps format so the playback on your Zune will look acceptable. Just make sure to verify the fps rate and use that for the FLV-to-AVI conversion to maintain audio/video syncing.