For those interested in electronics, an oscilloscope is a crucial piece of equipment. Regardless of the kind of project being undertaken, an oscilloscope allows an electronics expert (or indeed hobbyist) to measure the various parameters of the device they’re working on and both observe and gather data that would otherwise be unattainable. Oscilloscopes can measure anything from sound waves to electronic current, and can provide extremely accurate readings that are useful in terms of both a device’s design and function.
Oscilloscopes come in two main types – analogue and digital. Analogue devices are easily recognisable as the beeping boxes from countless sci-fi and hospital-based TV shows. While analogue oscilloscopes are still effective measuring devices, and available relatively cheaply, their form and function has been surpassed by the arrival of digital oscilloscope.
Analogue oscilloscopes are necessarily large devices (due to the cathode ray tubes used in their displays), but digital oscilloscope come in all shapes and sizes. Think of the revolution in TV design when digital displays like LCD and plasma screens came along – the same thing has happened with oscilloscopes – it’s now possible to get devices that are so portable they can fit in a pocket. Not only digital oscilloscopes more portable, their lack of a CRT tube means that they’re more rugged too – making them the perfect device for conducting measurements out in the field.
Digital oscilloscope also offers a great deal of versatility to a project – because their measurements can be calibrated to improved levels of accuracy, it’s possible to take extremely precise readings from devices. Of course, all the information that measured is of little use if it’s not collated and analysed correctly, which is another area where digital devices have an advantage over their analogue counterparts. Digital oscilloscope has much larger memories than analogue devices, and it’s much easier to connect them up to computers and monitors. Most digital oscilloscope come with a Micro SD card that offers a fair amount of storage, but it’s always worth choosing a device that can connect directly to a computer by USB as this almost totally eliminates any memory issues that may arise. Screen size is also an important consideration – while it’s of course possible to connect them to other devices, it’s still far more practical and convenient if the oscilloscope itself has a screen that can be easily read in a variety of conditions.
With all the advantages that digital oscilloscope have to offer, it’s entirely reasonable to expect buyers to pay a heavy premium for the technology – so it’s surprising to discover that digital oscilloscopes are in most cases available for around the same price as analogue devices. It’s now possible to purchase a really good digital oscilloscope like the DSO Nano for well under £100 – something which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. This high quality / low cost factor has mean that the digital oscilloscope has been enthusiastically adopted by both professional electricians and amateur electronics enthusiasts, and provides an exciting example of how technology itself is allowing technology to advance.