An oscilloscope, formerly known as an oscillograph, is an instrument that graphically displays electrical signals and shows how those signals change over time. It measures these signals by connecting with a sensor, which is a device that creates an electrical signal in response to physical stimuli like sound, light and heat. For instance, a microphone is a sensor that converts sound into an electrical signal.
Here we’ll cover everything you need to know about an oscilloscope from how it works to how to find the right one.
History of the oscilloscope
In 1897, a German physicist named Karl Ferdinand Braun invented a cathode ray tube and, along with it, the first oscilloscope, which was expanded upon decades later by the company A. C. Cossor. In 1934, the first commercial oscilloscope was released by General Radio, and it became the first to be used outside of a laboratory. And in 1946, Howard Vollum and Melvin Jack Murdock founded Tektronix, which has gone on to become a world leader oscilloscopes. Since then, Tek has continued releasing innovative new technologies, including the first digital oscilloscope in 1971 and the first oscilloscope-to-cloud software solution—TekDrive—in 2020. Oscilloscopes are a staple of any engineer’s bench and have even been featured in famous films throughout history.
What is an oscilloscope used for?
Oscilloscopes are often used when designing, manufacturing or repairing electronic equipment. Engineers use an oscilloscope to measure electrical phenomena and solve measurement challenges quickly and accurately to verify their designs or confirm that a sensor is working properly.
Who uses an oscilloscope?
Scientists, engineers, physicists, repair technicians and educators use oscilloscopes to see signals change over time. An automotive engineer might use an oscilloscope to correlate analog data from sensors with serial data from the engine control unit. Meanwhile, a medical researcher might use an oscilloscope to measure brain waves. There is no shortage of applications for this powerful instrument.
How does an oscilloscope work?
There are three primary oscilloscope systems: vertical, horizontal and trigger systems. Together, these systems provide information about the electrical signal, so the oscilloscope can accurately reconstruct it. The picture below shows the block diagram of an oscilloscope.
The first stage attenuates or amplifies the signal voltage in order to optimize the amplitude of the signal; this is referred to as the vertical system since it depends on the vertical scale control. Then the signal reaches the acquisition block, where the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) is used to sample the signal voltage and convert it in a digital format value. The horizontal system, which contains a sample clock, gives each voltage sample a precise time (horizontal) coordinate. The sample clock drives the ADC and its digital output is stored in the acquisition memory as a record point. The trigger system detects a user-specified condition in the incoming signal stream and applies it as a time reference in the waveform record. The event that met the trigger criteria is displayed, as is the waveform data preceding or following the event.
Oscilloscope vs. digital multimeter vs. voltmeter
Oscilloscope, digital multimeter, voltmeter—what’s the difference and are they interchangeable? A voltmeter measures the potential difference between two nodes on an electrical circuit. Though a digital multimeter also measures voltage, it can measure current and resistance as well. And an oscilloscope shows how the voltage changes over time. Typically, as the application becomes more advanced, so does the instrument.
What does an oscilloscope measure?
Simply put, an oscilloscope measures voltage waves. On an oscilloscope screen, voltage is displayed vertically on the Y axis and time is represented horizontally on the X axis. The intensity or brightness of the display is sometimes called the Z axis. The resulting graph can tell you many things about a signal, including:
Time and voltage values of a signal
Frequency of an oscillating signal
The “moving parts” of a circuit represented by the signal
Frequency with which a particular portion of the signal is occurring relative to other portions
Whether or not a malfunctioning component is distorting the signal
How much of a signal is direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC)
The DPO70804C Digital Phosphor Oscilloscope is one of the most advanced oscilloscopes in its class—enabling today's engineer to see signals better with minimal noise, debug signal anomalies faster and utilize measurement and analysis tools for automated compliance testing and other verifications.
Frequency Range: 16 GHz 4 Analog Channels, 16 Digital Channels
The MSO71604C is one of the most advanced oscilloscopes in its class—enabling today's engineer to see signals better with minimal noise, debug signal anomalies faster and utilize measurement and analysis tools for automated compliance testing and other verifications.
The Evolution of the Tektronix Touchscreen Oscilloscope
Touchscreen displays have taken over day-to-day life. From smartphones and laptops to smart TVs and vehicle navigation systems, touchscreen displays are improving the experience and functionality of devices for users. Even NASA uses touchscreen displays for most operations on its latest spacecraft.
Adding 5G Streaming, Mixed Reality Mapping, Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) Gaming and In-Vehicle Retailing are just a few of the new capabilities being considered as the automotive industry moves toward a future where autonomous vehicles are roaming our freeways.