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After Effects and Media Encoder Bit Rate Issue with H.264/MP4

Community Beginner ,
Nov 18, 2022 Nov 18, 2022

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I'm having a strange issue with the bit rates coming out of After Effects (v23.0) and Media Encoder (v23.0.1) when exporting H.264 MP4s. I'm exporting individual animation clips to bring into Premiere, some of which have very dark gradients that are prone to compression banding, so I'm cranking up the bit rate to max (135mbps). (I should also note that I'm using the noise trick to solve the banding.)

 

So my problem is: no matter what bit rate settings I put it at (135, 100, 50, etc.) the files themselves end up with bit rates that range from the mid-teens to low-20s (usually ~16mbps to ~21mpbs), with file sizes ranging from 8MBs to 5MBs (where they should be 10 times that).

I'm using hardware encoding. I tried software encoding, and although the file size and bitrate was finally within the correct range, the quality was not and had nearly identical banding issues.

However, when I export as Apple ProRes422, it's slick as butter. In the past, when I had done ProRes422 and H.264 at max settings, the results were almost identical, but the H.264 MP4 was significantly smaller than the ProRes422 MOV. So now I typically do max H.264 files to save space.

The only thing I haven't tried yet, as far as I can think of, is uninstalling After Effects and Media Encoder and doing a fresh install. I'm avoiding this, however, due to the several third party plugins I don't want to deal with re-installing. 

Any suggestions on how to this solve bug? Has anyone else noticed this when exporting?

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LEGEND ,
Nov 18, 2022 Nov 18, 2022

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Without any actual screenshots of the renders and exact specs of the files we can't really tell you much. That said, just cranking up the data rate doesn't realyl resolve the issue and it would be logical, that the encoder would not continuously max it out even if bandwidth is available and depending on thge actual dimensions, of course it won't do that, anyway. What would you do with 135 MB/s on a HD project when even a 4k project wouldn't necessarily max it out?  Similarly, the MPEG levels influence how blocks are created and distributed within the frame. There's more to it than just overcranking the data rates.

 

Mylenium

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Community Beginner ,
Nov 18, 2022 Nov 18, 2022

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Here's a few comparison images. One shows my different test exports, their file sizes, and theie data (bit) rates. One shows the different compression banding issues (or lack there of) between each file type. One is of my Media Encoder settings at 100mbps. Why I think there is a software bug is notice the estimated file export size (42MBs), but then when it exports it comes out at about 8MBs and only 21mbps.

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LEGEND ,
Nov 18, 2022 Nov 18, 2022

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Nothing wrong from the looks of it. A large uniform area like this will always show banding with MPEG compression and you cannot enforce anything in terms of using a larger data rate. This is a classic case of the algorithm at work. It will simply use that largest available block size with barely any sub-blocks. Hence the low file size. Different image content would of course change that.

 

Mylenium 

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Community Expert ,
Nov 18, 2022 Nov 18, 2022

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H.264 MPEG compresses color in blocks of 4 pixels, at best predicts 2 out of 3 frames, and is only 8-Bit. You will always get banding with subtle color changes with very little noise or grain. The way to hide the banding is to add noise or grain. Cranking up the data rate will reduce a little of the compression artifacts. Higher Bit Rates will never give you more colors. 

 

You should NEVER render h.264 MPEG files to use as production footage that will be edited and rendered again. Drop an H.264 file in Premiere Pro, do nothing to the shot but render it, and there will always be a measurable quality loss because MPEG is a lossy format.

 

If you are rendering shots that need to be edited (that's more than 98% of my work), you should always choose a lossless format. The Render Queue's Output Module/High Quality preset is where you should start, and you'll have even better luck if you set the comp to 16Bit color and the color to Trillions of colors. I always go to the Edit/Templates/Output Module menu and edit the presets to run at Trillions of colors or more if the Codec supports it. Unless specifically requested by a client, I never render a DI (Digital Intermediate) or Production Master as an 8Bit file. Even in 1994, when I first started working with After Effects and storage costs were between $500 and $1000 / GB, I never rendered a DI with a lossy format. We were stuck with 8 Bit color, but we rendered lossless for everything but motion tests we had to send to a client. 

 

 

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Community Beginner ,
Nov 30, 2022 Nov 30, 2022

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Thank you for the responses everyone! 

@Rick Gerard I appreciate the input on your production cycle. You can rest easy knowing that we work in at least 16-bit, and sometimes 32-bit depending on how we're compositing our footage. But I'll be sure to stick with exporting at the higher quality lossless formats for the DI (new term to me, too, thanks!). Have a good one, and enjoy your holiday's! 

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