Apologies in advance if this question is not really about software engineering — I am aware that the hardware has to be in place in equal measure for this to theoretically work, but I can’t find a better StackExchange site for this, and after pondering over this for a day and googling a bit, I have become more and more curious.
So, with todays computer systems, we have a HDMI interface, for instance, driven by a graphic card that in turn drives a display, typically an LCD. As far as I understand, the graphic card has some control over when to “refresh” contents of the display (not video RAM, which is another aspect), but typically we always talk about some applied refresh rate, frequency at which the display in effect updates itself.
Aside from the details as to whether it is the graphic card that drives the display or whether it is the display and/or the HDMI (an example) subsystem that polls the graphic card automatically at regular intervals for new content, I wonder:
Why in this day and age we can’t switch over to a manual commit-based display update mechanism? Does it have something to do with legacy code and type of thinking on software developers’ part?
To explain, we have now a variety of different display applications, software that does wildly different things, from games that need constant update of a world they model, to spreadsheet and word processors where there is nothing going unless the person updates the document or some other action initiated in the program — there is no need for the display or graphic card to ask for content X times per second and indiscriminately refresh the display from video RAM.
Instead, a function in e.g. OS kernel will be there to signal the hardware that it wants to update the display, having updated the framebuffer already, then either polling for completed transaction that is the complete display update, or, if designed in an asynchronous fashion, expecting an interrupt or other form of callback when display is updated, so it knows when it can issue another signal. The display subsystem is thus driven entirely in a controlled push-fashion consisting of update transactions, so to speak. Control is exerted from the application down to the kernel, through the graphic adapter, to the display, and never the other way around as is the case today where the display or the graphic card continuously refresh what we see, regardless of any changes in the content.
Perhaps with the electronics that support our systems today, we wouldn’t have to waste current (my understanding of electric properties of the existing systems is limited though) on updating a display when it does not need to be updated, or waste CPU cycles to attempt update the display framebuffer in the middle of a change (already implemented as v-sync, admittedly).
Am I making sense with this question? Think also of e-ink displays, and how certain types of software applications for these can benefit from getting in control of the display subsystem like I describe.
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