Not really. MPEG-4 (and H264, its' advanced flavor which can also have a MP4 extension) were not really widespread back in 2006, when After Effects 7 was released.
If you have Quicktime Pro (for example) you could render a lossless, video master file from AE and then use that as a source to export a MPEG-4 or H264 file from the Quicktime player itself.
This would produce better results compared to using File > Export > Quicktime in After Effects, which is really not a good idea - the video formats that are properly supported for export in AE are those which are available from the Render Queue.
If you don't have Quicktime Pro, you could google for a free MPEG-4 /H264 encoder application... or upgrade to After Effects CS4, which can export in these formats and has a million great new features
Thanks Adolfo, I have Production Studio Premier with Adobe Premier Pro 2.0 and After Effects 7.0, so if I upgrade to the latest Production Studio will both Premier Pro CS-4, and The latest After Effects have MPEG-4 encoders, and which one would be better to use? Thanks.
Actually, if you upgrade to Production Premium CS4, you will not only get MPEG-4/H264 encoding from both AE and Premiere Pro, but you also get the standalone version of Adobe Media Encoder, which is a dedicated, batch encoding application that will do nearly all distribution formats, like MPEG-4/H264/F4V, Flash video (FLV), MPEG-2, etc.
MPEG-4 encoding quality is a bit better from AME standalone or when invoked from Premiere Pro than it is when invoked from AE, because the After Effects Render Queue can't do 2 pass encoding, which is an encoding feature that can improve encoding quality for these formats. This is not to say that it will look bad when done from AE directly, just that it can be better in the other cases.
I will plan on the up grade. I was told by our web guy to use MPEG-4 at 440X300 at 250-300 kbits/sec. Do you know what frame rate would be normal to use on this set up? Thanks so much!
That's a really, really low bitrate. Nowadays, most web video goes much higher than that. You probably will have to go with 15 fps for content originated on NTSC video, or 12 fps for 24P content. Such a video file would be closer to the specs for cell phones, for example. Again, for most web content, the typical data rates, frame sizes and bitrates are usually quite higher than that. Even content for iPods and PSPs have higher data rates.
I was told by our web guy to use MPEG-4 at 440X300 at 250-300 kbits/sec.
That's not gonna look particularly attractive. Anything below 700 kbps is usually so blocky, it's not worth the effort. If you get my meaning: You are not targeting users with 14k dialup modems. If you were, you'd not include any video on your website. You really should ask your boss (or web guy) what he actually wants: Attract new customers or scare the s**t out of them with crappy video. Badly done video could do more damage than good.
Thanks for the answers! So if the bit rate is around 700 KBTs/sec, then what would be a typical frame rate?
A frame size of 320x240 would be typical for that bitrate. If you use the advanced version of MPEG-4 (ie, H264), you're going to get much better results. Most MPEG-4 video on the web is H264. Also, using the Adobe Media Encoder in standalone mode (after rendering a master Quicktime or AVI file from After Effects) will let you use 2 pass encoding, which can be important to get the last drop of quality out from such low bitrates.
Or, if you are happy with AE 7.0 and you don't mind some technical stuff, you can get even better MPEG-4 output by using x264, the free open source H.264 encoder, for example with MeGUI.
According to wikipedia,
"As of August 2008, x264 implements more features than any other H.264 encoder."
"Compared to other commercial H.264 encoders, x264 has the best picture quality, sometimes significantly better."
Yes, free H264 encoding solutions were suggested in a post above. Mind you, there are dozens of major new features since AE 7, plus support for processor families that didn't exist back in 2006.
I'd say, if you need the compositing tools or want the most out of your hardware, definitely upgrade or wait 'till April for CS5 to come out.
If you just need MPEG4, I'm sorry to say that Adobe Media Encoder is not your best friend.
Thanks for all the help!
I have ordered the upgrade to Production Premier CS4, and will try H 264 which you say will come Adobe Premier. Can I encode from Adobe Premier with out using after effects or the stand alone adobe encoder? Also if I am planning on a bit rate of 700 - 800 Kbits/ sec what frame rate do people typically use is it around 30 frames/sec? Is there a formula to calculate bit rate based on frame size X frame rate. Thanks?
Yes, you can encode H264/MPEG-4 from Premiere Pro CS4 without using After Effects or the standalone version of the Adobe Media Encoder. When you do so, an embedded version of AME will appear when exporting from Premiere.
H264 at those bitrates typically is around 320x240 and allows full frame rate, ie the same frame rate as the source file or project.
There could be bitrate calculation formulas (there are are even bitrate calculator applications), but the truth is that it all depends on the nature of the content, on one hand. On the other, the whole point is that most users don't want to become professional compressionists, just pick a preset that will give you good results in most cases. In this case, the H264 presets for iPod devices (320x240 with a lower bitrate, or 640x480 with a bitrate of about 1.1 Mbps, if I recall correctly) would make good starting points even if you're going to the web. You can just change the encoding method to 2 pass, to get a better encode (that will take twice as long to complete, of course).
Remember that with H264/MPEG-4 and such formats you can't pick any arbitrary frame size you want. You will have to settle for something that is close to your desired size, but valid for MPEG-4 encoding. The AME presets have a variety of frame sizes to pick from.
Thanks Adolfo, this really helps.