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HD footage has lots of pixels, which takes lots of disk space to store. Previewing 1080p at full res takes lots of RAM per frame, meaning very short previews. Reducing resolution to half or lower is standard practice for previewing HD.
Sounds like you are outputting to an uncompressed format. Most standard hard drives can't read data off the drive fast enough to cope with playback of uncompressed HD video. Use a codec like H264 or Quicktime PhotoJPEG to dramatically reduce your file sizes. Note that the compression will lower the quality of your pictures, however.
You might want to output directly to an HDV codec if your material is going directly back to HDV tape.
>Any tips would be HIGHLY appreciated.
How does "Rob a bank and buy some equipment!" sound? ;-) As Andrew said, all you are seeing is pretty normal behavior for working with HD stuff, even on powerful systems. Check out this site for some ideas about the data rates and storage requirements you could/ should expect:
As you can see, the requirements are rather high for uncompressed stuff which in turn means that you'll need a quad-striped RAID with fast discs hooked up via SATAto get realtime playback and you will need a 64bit system with something like 32 GB of RAM to preview half a minute of footage at full res (assuming AE would be 64bit native and could do it). The absolute file sizes should be no worry, though. It just so happens I was strolling through our local Saturn electronics store and they had 500 GB discs for little more than 100 Euros.... Discs are ridiculously cheap these days (if you need them just for storage, not speed)