What is m3u8, and how do I open, convert and download it?


👤 Diwas Poudel    🕒 Nov 20 2022    📁 TECH

M3U8 files are not video files. They are a web streaming video playback technology. They are better known as text-based playlist files. When downloaded, they can be opened with any text editor like Visual Studio Code or Notepad. 

How do M3U8 files work?

These files are used by audio and video playback programs. Mostly they store playlists that contain web paths or URLs (Uniform Resource Locator). On the disk, they are stored as text files and are a popular way of storing playlists. Apps like Spotify and Apple Music use this file format for storing playlists locally. They use UTF-8 character encoding.

m3u8 video content
fig. m3u8 content

Convert MKV to MP4 using VLC Player
Convert MKV to MP4 using VLC Player
This is an example of an M3U8 video file. We can see that it can be opened with a text editor and contains multiple links.

What is the M3U format?

M3U, standing for MPEG version 3 URL is also an audio playlist file. It is not the actual audio file. It is like a pointer that points the media player to the audio file on the web. It was developed for apps like Winplay3 and Fraunhofer. MP3 was made as a group effort and there was no interest in creating additional software to run it. Instead, it was agreed that an M3U file would be all that was needed.  Some applications that support m3u files are: 

  • VLC media player
  • Windows Media Player (Default with windows) 
  • Apple Itunes (default with IOS)
m3u8-files-source
fig. m3u8-files-source

This is an example of an M3U file. We can see that it is simpler and references the links of various files containing M3U8 videos. 

The Difference Between M3U8 and M3U files 

There is one major technical difference between these file formats. It is that M3U8 files use UTF-8 encoding while M3U files use different encoding standards. M3U files can also use UTF-8 encoding but are better known for using different standards. M3U has been around for decades. However, it was extended by Apple around 2015. And they called it M3U8. 

M3U8 Players for Different Operating Systems

In order to open M3U8 files for reading purposes, you’re going to need a text editor. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to view or listen to the media that is present in the file. In order to do that, there are various applications for different operating systems which we’ve listed here. 

For Windows

*Looking at windows 11’s default music player as well as Groove Music, it doesn’t look like m3u8 files are supported. 

Playing m3u8 file in vlc
fig. Playing m3u8 file in vlc

Here is an example of a VLC media player playing an M3U8 file off the internet. 

For Mac OS

For Linux

How to convert an M3U8 file?

Since M3U8 files are not video or audio files, you might be asking yourself, “How do I convert them to file formats that don’t need the internet?”. The only problem is that you cannot directly convert it to Mp3 or Mp4. To convert M3U8 files to other media files, you need to find the reference location that is stored in the M3U8 file. And then, you can download the video from there. And for that, we need to understand HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) better. 

Also read: How to download playlist from Youtube in bulk?

What is HLS?

It is an HTTP-based streaming protocol developed by Apple. This protocol is supported widely in web browsers, mobile devices, and streaming servers like Twitch and Youtube. This service is used for best Adaptability. Meaning, the original video can be played in several distinct quality levels. HLS protocol chops up MP4 video content to short 6 seconds clips (as per apple documentation) with the .ts extension.  The HTTP server also creates an M3U8 file so that the file will still exist. 

According to Apple, Apple's HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) technology enables users to stream live and on-demand audio and video to their iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV as well as their personal computers. HLS is a protocol that allows you to deploy content using standard web servers and content delivery networks. This protocol is based on the same protocol that runs the web. HLS is built with dependability in mind and dynamically adjusts to the conditions of the network to ensure that playback is optimized for the available bandwidth of both wired and wireless connections.

Adobe Flash VS HLS

For years, Adobe Flash has been the most popular method of sharing videos over the internet. Now, we have shifted to video delivery protocols like HLS Streaming and HTML5 players. This is because they are open, more secure, and faster than earlier technologies. 

Also read: Download one specific sheet from Google Sheets

How to download the M3U8 files

To download an M3U8 file, you’ll need something called an M3U8 video downloader. This is a tool to download a video at an M3U8 Link. The most difficult thing to do when trying to download any M3U8 media is overcoming the encryption. Therefore, there are some tools that can be used to skip this step entirely. We have listed some tools for different environments.

1 M3U8 Downloader [Windows]

This is an incredibly lightweight and useful tool for converting M3U8 files to Mp4 and using them offline. This tool can be downloaded here

2 VLC Media Player [Windows]

The VLC media player can not only be used to play videos but also download and convert videos to other formats. To do so using VLC, follow along with the given steps:

  1. Install VLC Media Player
  2. Go to Media at the menu bar and then select Open Network Stream option from the list.
    VLC media Network Stream
     fig. Select Open Network Stream...
  3. In the next window provide the m3u8 file URL and then click on the Convert button.
    Paste Url and click on Convert button
     fig. Paste Url and click on the Convert button
  4. Set the Profile to mp4 with H.264 codec.
    Set h264 mp4 option
     fig. Set h264 mp4 option
  5. Next, select Browse and give the destination file.
    Browse destination file and click on start button to convert the m3u8 file
     fig. set destination file and click on the Start button
  6. Next click on the Start button. Now you just sit back and relax.

3 StreamFab M3U8 Downloader [Windows and Android]

This is another tool that helps us download M3U8 videos easily. It is also a lightweight and easy-to-use software. You can download the application here

4 M3U8 Downloader [Chrome]

This is a chrome tool that helps to download M3U8 live videos. It works without downloading any external apps and works well for a chrome user. It can be found in the chrome web store. This extension works in multiple chromium-based browsers like Brave and Microsoft Edge. 

5 Leawo [Windows]

Leawo video downloader is also a tool that can be used to download M3U8 videos. They allow downloads from over 1000 video streaming services. However, this is not an online service. It needs to be downloaded from Leawo’s Site.  

6 Live Stream Downloader [Firefox]

This is also an extension that helps us download m3u8 files for free directly from the browser. However, It works only for Firefox Browser. It can be added to the browser from the Browser Add-ons section. 

Also read: Download only subtitles of videos using youtube-dl Command

Conclusion

We can all agree that M3U8 files are hard to deal with when trying alone. However, there are tools that automate the process. These tools make extracting video content from M3U8 files easier and use them offline.

Article by: Adamya Neupane

 

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