capsule review

Visual Explorer Ultimate

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Visual Explorer Ultimate

    PCWorld Rating

    Visual Explorer Ultimate browser offers a lot of built-in features for online video fans.

One of the things you learn as a reviewer is just how long the long tail really is. There are more "alternative" browsers out there than most people could guess, and it's hard for most of them to offer any reason to switch from the top tier. Visual Explorer Ultimate offers one major piece of functionality that's tempting, but narrowly focused.

Visual Explorer Ultimate screenshot
Video Explorer Ultimate may be my choice for archiving videos from the Web, but not too much else.
So let's go for the good stuff first. Streaming video is wonderful but transient; sites vanish, videos are pulled for legitimate and illegitimate reasons, and the time you most want to watch a particular video is always when you can't get an Internet connection for some reason. There are many plug-ins for downloading streaming video for different browsers, but my experience with them has been uneven and, being plug-ins, they often break when the browser is upgraded, which now happens approximately once a week with Firefox. Visual Explorer Ultimate builds video downloading--and, even better, conversion--right in.

If you're on YouTube, or any of the dozens of other supported sites, you merely click the disk icon (if you're under 20, you'll recognize this as the abstract image every program uses to mean 'save,'), and it will save the active video. One of the more useful functions is stripping out the video and just saving the audio as an MP3, which is a surprisingly annoying process otherwise. Visual Explorer Ultimate is almost worth keeping around just for that; I've got standalone programs that do the same thing, except less easily and reliably. You can also save in iPad format, MPG, and others, avoiding conversion hassles.

While Visual Explorer Ultimate supports many streaming sites, there are some it does not, mostly in the, ahem, skeevier side of the net.

There are some features that Visual Explorer Ultimate provides which are uncommon and deserve mention, though I don't personally find them compelling. One is the "cloaking device" which makes the window partially transparent, allegedly to foil people glancing sidelong at your screen... but if it's transparent enough to hide what you're doing from them, it's too transparent to use, or at least that was my experience. There's a "video browser" mode that changes the normal URL bar into a customized video search engine, and allows you to create custom sets of video sites to search from, which is nice, but useful only if most of your time is spent searching for videos (which it might well be).

Other than that, Visual Explorer Ultimate is... a browser. It has tabs, it has sidebar bookmarks (something Chrome still doesn't have, I must note), it renders pages adequately most of the time, and so on. It is also somewhat quirky; I found a few bugs in rendering and general functionality when I reviewed 3.0; these are very quickly fixed for 3.1, which is the final version being reviewed, but there were still oddities and one crash to desktop during general browsing. While every browser is occasionally unstable, Visual Explorer Ultimate seems to have more minor glitches than average, many of which do go away if you hide and then show the window.

Being free, Visual Explorer Ultimate is worth considering if you do any kind of regular video downloading or converting. The development team is active and responsive, always a positive sign. If you've been unsatisfied with plug-in solutions or third party programs when it comes to getting streaming video off the screen and onto your hard disk, Visual Explorer Ultimate is definitely worth downloading.

--Ian Harac

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Visual Explorer Ultimate browser offers a lot of built-in features for online video fans.

    Pros

    • Built-in video conversion
    • Internet Explorer plugin support

    Cons

    • Somewhat buggy
    • Not distinct enough from leading browsers
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