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What do you mean by playback? If it's the footage, then some CoDec has changed/ been updated/ gone broken. For compositions you should of course ideally always create RAM previews.
Try these tips and report back:
- Jonas Hummelstrand
Apparently, the problem was in some codec. After reinstaling the codecs (and windows and AE), all works fine.
To clarify, the problem was in playing both footage and compositions as well as the ram preview in the composition window - it would never play longer than a couple of seconds. However, the footage would run if opened in a separate window (either from outside AE or by double clicking the source footage in the project window). The exported movies from AE would run fine if played outside AE.
After trying everything I could've thought of, I formatted the hard disk, but forgot to reinstall the codecs before running the newly installed AE afterwards. Just before I saw Mylenium's post, I was about to compeletly give up on fixing this problem - I thought of dealing with it by pressing and holding Next Frame button (Page Down).
Thank you both Mylenium and Jonas for your help.