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Oculus has invented a new unit for measuring time

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Credit: Christopher Horvath

Earlier this week, Facebook and Oculus released a new unit of time: the 'flick,' which is short for 'frame-tick' and represents a 705,600,000th of a second.

The unit was first conceived in a 2016 thread posted by Christopher Horvath (opens in new tab), who at the time was working at Oculus Story Studio, and serves one specific purpose: it is "the smallest time unit which is larger than a nanosecond, and can in integer quantities exactly represent a single frame duration for 24hz, 25hz, 30hz, 48hz, 50hz, 60hz, 90hz, 100hz, 120hz, and also 1/1000 divisions of each."

In other words, flicks can be used to describe exact frame durations in whole numbers without the rounded fractions you'd get when using metric measurements. For example, 1/30th of a second, a single frame of 30hz video, lasts .033 seconds or 33.33 milliseconds, rounded. Using Horvath's unit, however, one frame of a 30hz video lasts precisely 23,520,000 flicks.

Why does it matter? For one, floating point math calculations can be slower. More importantly, the idea is to keep minuscule timing errors from piling up, especially in VR, where precise timing is necessary.

Horvath, along with several colleagues, refined the unit and finished pushing it through (opens in new tab) "the Open Source process at Facebook" on Monday, making available an open-source library (opens in new tab) to aid "writing code that works with simulation and time in media." Just don't expect us to start publishing benchmark results in flicks per frame.

Tyler Wilde
Tyler Wilde

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.