Everyone knows how annoying it can be to see lags and stutters when watching video or playing a computer game. At times, these errors are so distracting that they completely ruin the user’s experience. Luckily for all of us, this may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new unit of time invented by a software engineer at Facebook: the “Flick”.
Short for the term “frame tick”, the purpose of the Flick is to reduce timing errors in video effects by eliminating the use of fractions in the calculations executed by the computer. Programming experts say that, over time, calculation errors from fractions can build up, resulting in noticeable lags, stutters, and out of sync video effects.
Measuring 1/705,600,000 of a second Flick is slightly longer than a nanosecond (which is one billionth of a second), and gives programmers a unit of measurement that corresponds to media frame rates in whole numbers instead of fractions.
How the Flick may improve the future of gaming and VR
The idea was developed by Facebook engineer Christopher Horvath early last year. He first shared the concept publicly on that social network and used community feedback to tweak it, finally resulting in the Flick we have today.
This unit of time is defined in the programming language C++, a language widely used in a variety of media to create visual effects, including film, television and, more recently, virtual reality (VR). VR in particular stands to benefit from the Flick because of how sensitive the user experience is to timing errors.
Researchers in this field of technology often bring up the terms immersion and presence as indicators of the quality of a computer game or VR experience. The latter of these, presence, is achieved when the player’s brain feels that they are there, within the game or virtual environment. It is very easy to interrupt this feeling of presence, and with the old fractional time units, it has been susceptible to being broken by latency in graphics and out of sync visual effects.
Using the Flick to minimize or potentially eliminate these types of timing errors could make it much easier to create a high-quality VR experience in which the user feels present, and would also make it possible to sustain that feeling of presence throughout the entire experience. Of course, latency and stuttering graphics are not the only hurdle to overcome on the quest for presence, but eliminating them would be a major step towards the kind of VR that society has fantasized about for decades.
Its success will depend on the programming community’s readiness to adopt it. We can only hope the Flick will not meet the same fate as the “.beat” proposed by the company Swatch in the late 1990s.