Re-encoding videos is a necessary evil of sharing things on the Web and getting them on your portable devices. If your computer is more than two years old, the chances are that the encoding process takes far longer than you have patience for. The good news is that if you've got a high-speed connection, you can use Hey!Watch, a new Web-based video encoding service that's both free (sort of) and pretty speedy if you've got a good connection.
You can upload nearly any type of video file to Hey!Watch's dashboard. A small progress bar lets you know how far along you are. The upload took a fair bit of time (about 10 minutes for a 45MB file on a fast connection), but what really impressed me is how speedy the re-encoding was. You're given a drop-down list of popular video formats along with aspect ratios if you're converting something that's already in 16:9 (letterbox). My test file was a high-definition (720p) trailer for the upcoming video game Assassin's Creed, which I wanted to scale down for an iPod video. Hey!Watch finished the job in a little less than two minutes.
If you're interested in grabbing a video off YouTube, Revver or even Apple's QuickTime movie trailer site, you can just copy and paste the URL to Hey!Watch and it will grab the video for you to convert. This is especially useful if you're trying to copy a video you've found online to put on your iPod video. It's also worth noting you can't easily save the videos you find on the QuickTime movie trailers site unless you've plunked down $30 for QuickTime Pro. Hey!Watch also has a handy bookmarklet you can add to your favorites to encode things you run across on the Web.
Once you've got your videos up and converted, you're given a link from Hey!Watch where you can download the file. Both versions of the file (the original and the re-encoded) are hosted through Hey!Watch for 6 and 12 hours respectively. If you need more time, there's a premium version of the service which doubles both hosting times. Premium access also gives you some advanced user options, like custom sizing and formatting for your videos and three uploads and encodings at a once.
There are a few caveats to Hey!Watch. Even with the premium version you're limited to 25 minutes for the length of your video. If you're using Hey!Watch to convert TV shows you've recorded on something like Windows Media Center (without ad skipping), it's going to be over the limit for even half hour programs. The premium service is also a little pricey at $40 a year. Other inexpensive conversion software apps like Videora (free) and QuickTime Pro can do your local encoding without these limitations.
Hey!Watch isn't the only Web service that performs these functions. Zamzar does nearly the same thing, and lets you convert photo, music and document files as well. What sets Hey!Watch apart is not having to wait for an e-mail providing you the download link, plus the more advanced export and hosting options you get with the premium account.
Hey!Watch is a fantastic solution for people with old computers who aren't able to upgrade but have a casual need to re-encode video files for everyday use. The 10-files-per-month upload limit for nonpremium users kills it as a free service, but if you're looking to do a few files every once in a while it's really handy. If you've got a fast connection and an old computer, there's not a speedier way to re-encode your files short of buying a new computer.