A hugely utilized tool in electronics, an oscilloscope can be used for various tasks in a laboratory or engineers’ workshop. Here, we explore what an oscilloscope is, what it’s used for and the features you should examine before choosing one.
What is an oscilloscope?
An oscilloscope is an electronic tool used to analyze the waveform and bandwidth of electronic signals. Its main purpose is to display these signals in a graph, which is typically two-dimensional and shows how the electrical signals change over time.
The voltage is usually displayed on the y-axis and the time displayed on the x-axis. Digital oscilloscopes use an analog-to-digital converter to translate the signal voltage into digital data.
There are several different types of digital oscilloscopes available, including digital sampling oscilloscopes, digital storage oscilloscopes, digital phosphor oscilloscopes and mixed-signal oscilloscopes. Each one offers different capabilities, from processing basic waveforms to advanced triggering.
What is it used for?
Oscilloscopes are a widely used electronic tool in the technology, science and engineering sectors. This is because they can be used for a variety of tasks – including analyzing both time and voltage characteristics.
Those creating a new piece of tech may use an oscilloscope to examine the frequency and amplitude of an electronic signal, which gives greater visibility of overall performance and potential problems.
The scope may also be used to look at noise levels and the shapes of waves. For instance, a medical professional may use an oscilloscope to measure brain waves, while an engineer may use one to analyze power consumption.
What features should I consider before purchasing?
This dictates the amount of data that can be provided from an electronic signal in a given time period. Put simply, the more information the oscilloscope can obtain the more precise the graph will be – so it’s worth considering the sample frequency you require before purchasing.
The amount of information the oscilloscope can record and store from a single electronic signal will impact the accuracy of your analysis. Typically, the greater the memory depth, the more data the oscilloscope can utilize and store – giving you better results.
Certain digital oscilloscopes can be connected to a computer or monitor, allowing you to quickly and easily analyze your data. You may wish to choose one with a handy USB port, for example, that can be connected to your laptop for efficient data downloading.
Different oscilloscopes will have different bandwidths – so it’s important to establish how high the frequencies are that you need to measure.
For an oscilloscope to work well, it should have a bandwidth that is much larger than the waves it is analyzing. Of course, the bandwidth you require will completely depend on what you are measuring, so if in doubt speak to an electronic specialist.
Finally, you will need to consider the price of oscillators before you buy. Basic digital oscilloscopes are often the most budget-friendly option and may be more than adequate for your needs.
The more advanced you go, the more it is likely to cost, so consider whether you need a high-tech oscilloscope before you invest.