Facebook invents new unit of time to sync video (and boost VR)

24/01/2018

Facebook has introduced a new unit of time to make it easier for developers to sync up video and audio frames, in what could be a breakthrough for VR.

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The new metric, called the flick, is a portmanteau that condenses the phrase “frame-tick.”

A single flick is defined as 1/705,600,000 of a second, or the smallest unit of time that’s larger than a nanosecond, according to the project’s GitHub page. At 60 frames per second, each frame appears for 11,760,000 flicks, which is an easier figure to work with than 16.667 milliseconds.

When devices play video, they show a particular number of frames every second.

To give an example, the current standard for video games is 60 frames per second, which means that each individual frame is on the screen for 16.667 milliseconds.

That isn’t a particularly easy figure to work with, but awkward numbers are common when considering various frame rates. The flick aims to remove some of this complexity and room for error by eliminating the need to use rounded-up decimals or fractions.

When it comes to experiencing virtual reality (VR) in all its immersive glory, the smallest fraction of a second could be the difference between a comfortable experience and a nauseating one.

Speaking with the BBC, an Oxford University researcher said that the advent of flicks for VR developers could be instrumental in helping users to feel more immersed in an online world, rather than viewing it as a tool to interact with.

“Immersion is the engagement you feel with a computer game. Presence is the notion of your brain feeling that you are there,” the researcher said.

“Presence is very, very easy to break. I think, perhaps, a very fixed way of describing these time steps allows for developers to have a bit more flexibility in dealing with latency issues and making sure videos stay in sync.”

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