Facebook’s ‘New Time Unit’ Is No Gimmick

Facebook has created its own unit of time dubbed “a flick.” It’s a tiny fraction of a second and, surprisingly enough, might be genuinely useful.

The flick is 1/705600000 of a second. It will take the spot of the shortest unit of time that’s still longer than a nanosecond, but that’s not the point.

Instead it’s all about the number. It’s specifically chosen to be divisible by virtually every common frames per second setting used in video and every common kHz sample rate for digital audio. For example, a single frame on a 24 fps recording lasts for 29400000 flicks.

The idea of the flick (a not-quite-portmanteau of “frame tick”) is to get around the problem that computers normally have to figure out the time of a frame or chunk of audio data as a fraction of a second but expressed as a decimal number. Short of working with infinitely long strings of numbers, these time periods eventually have to be rounded up or down.

At some point, the aggregated inaccuracies from such rounding become noticeable (particularly if data is converted between systems of programs that round at a different point) and produces glitches or skips in video. A researcher quoted by the BBC noted this is particularly problematic in video that relies on being immersive such as in gaming or VR, with the glitch effectively breaking the brain’s suspension of disbelief.

The one limitation of the system is that it doesn’t quite work with analog footage in the NTSC format. That’s because the frame rates used in NTSC are defined as irrational numbers (such as 30 * 1000/1001). While Facebook didn’t try to address this, some of the common roundings of the frame rate numbers do happen to neatly fit into a specific number of flicks.

One Response to Facebook’s ‘New Time Unit’ Is No Gimmick

1. “That’s because the frame rates used in NTSC are defined as irrational numbers (such as 30 * 1000/1001)”

That’s not an irrational number. An irrational number can’t be represented as a fraction of integers

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