The Myth within the Myth
A lot of the VSync confusion likely stems from the myth that LCD monitors don’t need refresh rates. While it’s true that an LCD monitor could theoretically leave unchanged pixels alone and only change the ones that need it, that’s not how video signals, be they computer or media based, work.
Computer graphics work by rendering frames, and film and television are based around filming frames as well. Before you lament the lazy engineers who haven’t completely junked technologies evolved to incredible sophistication over a century to take advantage of decade old LCD technology, how much trouble is the FCC having getting people off analog rabbit ears?
Though flat-panel TVs are taking over, the overwhelming majority of North America, let alone the world’s, televisions are still cathode ray tubes. But computer monitors, at least on a gaming PC, are LCD, so why can’t computer graphics, if not media based video, take advantage of this? After all, computer graphics have only been evolving for three decades or so, and LCDs have been common for the last third of that period.
It’s still a massive undertaking: using fields (parts of the screen in motion) instead of frames is being kicked around, as it has since the first LCD monitors were thought of, but that is a huge change in how graphics are handled.
Finally, where are the benefits? An MMO, FPS, or RTS player’s perspective is constantly moving, so the entire frame is constantly changing. You can argue that it would help in flight or driving games, where the cockpit doesn’t change much, but that ignores the lighting and shadow effects.
That leaves adventure, platform, and puzzle games with constant backgrounds throughout a scene or level. These games are far less graphically demanding than those mentioned above specifically because of the fixed perspective, so they don’t drive graphics technology. Those that do turn up the eye candy use tricks like having your avatar carry a light source, the point of which is moving lighting and shadows. Those obviously affect most of, if not the whole screen.