You've found an irresistible video on YouTube that you just have to show to your friends, so you want to download it to your Apple iPod.

You search in vain for the "Download to iPod" button that should be there on the YouTube page, but isn't.

YouTube doesn't make it easy; you're going to have to do it yourself.

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Before getting started, let's understand the problem, which has two basic aspects.

First, YouTube doesn't want you to download its videos — and it says so in its help files.

Downloading the files isn't illegal, but since YouTube's business model is based on page views, the company has been known to modify its tagging and to use other methods to prevent downloads.

If one of the techniques discussed here suddenly stops working, you'll know why. Either look for an update, or search out another solution.

Secondly, YouTube converts all videos into Flash format, with an FLV extension, which until recently was not a format many encoding programs would accept.

So even if you successfully download the file, you'll need a program that can input the file for encoding.

Then, of course, you have to convert the file into an iPod-compatible format.

Alternative 1: Windows

Browsers on the Windows platforms don't have convenient controls for finding and saving the Flash video file from YouTube, so you're better off opting for a standalone solution that downloads and produces the file at the same time.

I've used several, and found the YouTube to iPod Converter at DVDvideosoft.com fast and easy to use, though it produces MPEG-4 files only, not H.264, and it converts all files to 24 frames per second, whereas 29.97 fps is the original frame rate for most videos.

Considering the already-degraded quality of the video downloaded from YouTube, you probably won't notice the difference.

Program operation is simple: Just copy and paste in the URL, choose a preset, and click "Download & Convert."

Alternative 2: Online

The second alternative applies to both Mac and Windows computers and is a free, totally online beta service available at vixy.net.

Simply paste in a URL, choose a format, and click "Start."

The site converts the video to 320-by-240 MPEG-4 video at 29.97 fps and obviates the need to download or install any software at all.

Note the MP3 audio option, which is great for concert videos you find on YouTube.

Alternative 3: Mac

1. Download. You can handle the downloading and encoding manually; they're especially easy on the Mac.

In Safari, open the Activity window after starting playback in YouTube, and double-click the downloading video file (it will have "get_video?video_id" in the line). That will start a download in Safari to the default location on your hard drive.

2. Encode. The best free iPod encoder for the Mac is iSquint (www.isquint.com).

Download the program, drag the downloaded video file in, choose your presets, and click "Start."

If you choose "Optimize for iPod," iSquint will encode the video at 320-by-240 resolution, which fits the iPod screen perfectly.

If you choose "Optimize for TV," the program encodes at 640-by-480, which generally is better for viewing on television using the iPod's TV output port.

However, since YouTube produces most files at 320-by-240, you're not going to improve the output by encoding at 640-by-480; the files will just take up more space.

The iPod can accept two video formats, H.264 and MPEG-4. The former lets you get more video onto your iPod, at a cost of longer encoding time.

If you don't click the H.264 checkbox, iSquint will encode in MPEG-4 format.

Again, given the degraded quality of the video you're starting with, codec choice isn't that critical, but if you're looking to stuff the most video you can into your iPod, opt for H.264.

Of course, neither technology will actually improve the quality of the YouTube video; as with photocopying a photocopy, your best hope is quality that's close to the fuzzy original.

Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.