I was looking for a cheap program that recorded and saved videos from the Internet. I had previously used the free trial version of the Windows Media Recorder, but the limited recording time of 5 minutes was not adequate enough for my purposes. The Ask and Record Toolbar 4.0 was a device that I stumbled upon by accident.
There are many reasons to recommend this software. I have used the program to watch videos on sites. So far, the toolbar has saved them in .mp4 and .flv files. The .flv files are the more common files of websites like YouTube, and the .mp4 files are sometimes used for the HD versions of the videos on YouTube. I have viewed both file types on the website and with media players through the toolbar on my computer without any degradation in video or audio quality of the clips.
There is also a separate device on the toolbar that is used to record audio only. One can record the sound of a video and convert it into an .mp3 file to listen on your computer or mobile device. This may come in handy if you are not interested in the video portion of what you are viewing, such as a standup comedy clip.
The size of the download is around 7 MB, which is considerably small relative to its capabilities. It installs itself in and is accessed from your web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. On the one hand, this is convenient for use, but on the other, it becomes a part of an application, rather than operate by itself. In other words, it is activated or deactivated only when your browser is open or closed.
There are drawbacks to the toolbar. Opening a webpage that contains a video, such as a YouTube page, creates a file of that video no matter what. If you click on a video that you decide you do not want, the video is automatically recorded. You have to delete it from your toolbar, which is simple enough, but be aware that it is a feature that you cannot control. When deleting a video from your cache, you must exit the page that contains that video if you are still viewing it because the software will refuse to delete it under these conditions.
Also, if you refresh the webpage, the video will start to record again. You may end up with multiple video files of the same video, which you will probably want to delete as well. In addition, YouTube sometimes experiences a gap in time in switching between normal and high quality clips; this affects the stream that the toolbar is working with, meaning there is the possibility of a faulty recording. Refreshing the page solves the problem and starts the recording again.
The audio recording only aspect of the toolbar also has a slight problem. It is very effective at recording what is heard on your computer, which can be both a good and bad thing. While recording a sound file, I also clicked on several folders on my computer during that time. When I played back the file, I could hear the clicking faintly in the background. I had to delete that file and start again. In addition, there are times when the sound file is recorded twice. I have had to delete copies several times, although I cannot find the reason for this bug; sometimes it happens, and other times, it does not.
(Some streaming videos/ audio are not recorded depending on certain conditions, so the performance of the device differs occasionally )
There is also another minor problem with the search feature of the Ask and Record Toolbar. When I scan my computer with the antispyware program SuperAntiSpyware, it occasionally identifies 2 adware items that I have determined originate from the toolbar search function. These items are meant to track your patterns and are a bit unwelcome; on the other hand, they might be false positives that my program has not identified yet. I remove them from time to time when they appear in my antispyware scans, and I never use the search bar. Still, some people will be uncomfortable with having a device that supposedly tracks their information, so consider this before installing the software.
On a side note, I would not recommend recording copyrighted material. As a disclaimer, I do not advocate the recording of videos or other media under copyright law. Use the software at your own discretion.
Despite the negative parts of the product and the technical bugs that appear episodically, the Ask and Record Toolbar is a powerful piece of software. It is free, and if you are not pleased by it, it can be removed easily from your browser.
Update On Jul 18, 2010: Firefox Version 3.6.6 currently does not work with the video recorder of the Ask and Record Toolbar. The issue is already known to Firefox users: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/11402/ Strangely enough, I have tested the audio recorder, and it still functions correctly for that browser. I have also tested the latest version of Internet Explorer, and both the video and audio recorder work.