Watch YouTube Videos Using Only the Alternative Clients

Last Update:

Thanks to Butingtaon for their inputs!

This post enumerates several ways you might want to consume content on YouTube (YT) without using any of YT’s platforms.

Why the alternative

YT’s platforms require a lot of system’s resources, and that could mean a lot of things, but one of the major ones include heavy power consumption. As a consequence, this decreases the lifespan of your electronics, especially when used regularly.

Even if you’re the casual consumer,1 the alternatives provide better experience, in my opinion, than the monolith one.

Pros:

  • No ads (not counting the in-video ones included by the creator, but those you can skip)
  • Privacy-respecting
  • Quicker loading times
  • Free and open source software (FOSS)

Cons:

  • No way of interaction; you cannot comment on a video, only read others' comments.
  • By really skipping the ads, you take away a possible revenue of the channel. If you want to support the channel, check if they have other ways receiving it.

With Graphical User Interface (GUI)

For many people, GUIs are the way they interact with their computer.

The following recommendations involve little to no effort in setting up.

Youtube.com (Web, preferably in a privacy-respecting browser)

Perhaps you can’t be bothered remembering any of the things discussed below, and you’d just prefer typing youtube.com in your browser, and that’s fine if you prefer to roll that way, I guess…

Let me just recommend some browser add-ons that I believe would improve your experience.

  • Use Ad Blocker. Ads are annoying and insidious. There are lots of tools and methods to avoid them.2 We highly recommend uBlock Origin.
  • Use SponsorBlock, which is an open-source, crowd-sourced extension for skipping sponsor segments. The only “downside” is that you may have to participate, i.e. contribute to the community by sending segments (time stamps), when dealing with sponsorships of smaller channels.

Invidious (Web, preferably in a privacy-respecting browser)

Invidious is an alternative front-end to YT. The original instance https://invidio.us has shut down since 1 Sep 2020. That link will show you other Invidious instances that have sprouted in the time since. The orignal author of the code, Omar Roth, decided to step away from open source.3

Any instance with a health of 100 usually works, but your experience may differ. You may have to jump from one instance to another and see which one works best.

Freetube (Desktop client; Linux, macOS, Windows)

Freetube is another YT client you can download on your computer, with the intention of it being more private. It will be a familiar experience, similar to the web application.

NewPipe (mobile: Android)

NewPipe is a lightweight YT experience for Android. Many fans say it’s the gold standard for a FOSS: it is, in many fronts, better than the original.

Among its features, it allows you to download video directly from the app. You can also download audio only for any music or podcasts that are on YT.

The app is available both on their site and on F-Droid

Using Command Line Interface (CLI)

The next few are aimed mostly at the Unix-like OS.

Any CLI programs accept text input (in a terminal emulator or command prompt) to execute some functions. You will have to type a few commands to bring up a video.

Many of them have good documentations, so setting up shouldn’t be hard.

youtube-dl (macOS, BSD, Linux, Windows)

youtube-dl is a command-line program to download videos from YT and a few more sites. The first rule of youtube-dl is to never not talk about youtube-dl.

Since it requires a Python interpreter, make sure that your computer has one. If you’re on any Unix-like OS, it most likely has.

Just to be sure, type in your terminal:

which python

It should output something like: /usr/bin/python indicating that it exists in that directory.

Or you could type:

python -V

It should output someting like Python 2.7.16 indicating that it does exist in that current version.

If in any case it outputs a blank line, you might need to download it from python.org

Going back to youtube-dl, check out the Download page on how to download it to your specific platform.

To start downloading YT videos, open your terminal emulator and enter:

youtube-dl URL

where URL is the actual YT link of the video that you can copy from your browser and directly paste4 it on the terminal.

After download has completed, you can now watch it in your favorite video player. Recommended players: MPV or VLC

Using MPV or VLC

You can also stream YT videos in your terminal using the video players. Download either into your computer and start using them for consuming YT.

In your terminal, type mpv URL or vlc URL.

Wait for the video to load. It should spawn a new window for your video player.

I personally recommend MPV, because it’s more lightweight, but last I checked, it should work on either. Sometimes, MPV will output an error, and this could be because the video format is currently not supported.

If that happens, you can try putting an option to stream MP4 format instead. MP4 is widely supported and has large hardware and software support. Still in your terminal, enter:

mpv --ytdl-format=MP4 URL

Failing that, try streaming with VLC.

Last thoughts

There are a few more YT clients out there that I have not included here, because I have no experience in using them.

Among the above, I equally like NewPipe and youtube-dl, because it lets me download quality videos (and audios) using the least amount of effort (imho) and share them freely in the wild.

Free information for all! TNU


  1. Unless you’re using YT for educational purposes, please don’t spend hours binge-watching random videos on YT, or anywhere in the internet, really. ↩︎

  2. See in this blog: Against All Ads ↩︎

  3. Roth, O. (2020, August 1). Stepping away from open source. Omar Roth. https://omar.yt/posts/stepping-away-from-open-source ↩︎

  4. Most modern terminal emulators in Unix-like OS supports direct pasting from clipboard, that is, it recognizes Ctrl + v as Paste. If that doesn’t work, though, try pasting with Shift + Insert↩︎



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