Oscilloscope Types & Variations

Closeup cropped picture of a triangle wave and square wave on a blue oscilloscope screen

Oscilloscopes are essential instruments in the rapidly changing field of electronics and measurement equipment, useful to engineers, scientists, researchers, and many other professionals. Although the classic oscilloscope remains the fundamental tool for waveform analysis, many versions have been developed to meet certain requirements. In this article, we will examine these variations, highlighting their unique qualities, uses, and benefits.

Oscilloscopes are unique tools that provide real-time visualization of electrical signals, allowing engineers, technicians, and researchers to observe, measure, and analyze aspects of electronic waveforms. Their purpose is to assist in circuit operation diagnosis, irregularity or anomaly discovery, and design specification validation by permitting time-domain signal observation.

Each oscilloscope type is tailored to specific applications, requirements, and circumstances. Specialized oscilloscope variants offer features and capabilities that address unique measurement challenges, such as higher bandwidths, increased channel counts, advanced triggering options, and specialized analysis tools. By understanding different oscilloscope types and their functions, users can choose the best instrument for their specific needs.

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The Multiplier Oscilloscope

The multiplier oscilloscope’s main purpose is to accurately assess small signals or signals with low voltage levels by amplifying the input signal through a predefined factor. By multiplying the input signal, the multiplier oscilloscope produces accurate voltage measurements. This functionality is particularly helpful in applications like noise characterization, low-level electrical circuit analysis, and sensor output analysis where signal resolution is critical.

The multiplier oscilloscope’s capacity to increase measurement sensitivity without sacrificing accuracy is another crucial feature. The oscilloscope’s dynamic range can be efficiently increased by doubling the input signal, allowing for the observation and analysis of signals that would otherwise be too tiny to detect. For engineers and researchers working in areas like low-power electronics, sensor design, and telecommunications, this makes it an indispensable tool. Furthermore, some multiplier oscilloscope models could have sophisticated features like bandwidth filtering, customizable multiplication factors, and signal averaging.

One of the most recently developed oscilloscope features is signal multiplication, which makes it possible to study instantaneous power. For instance, while switching transients in logic circuitry, the collector voltage can be seen as a function of time. In addition, the collector current can be displayed onscreen. The product of these parameters is then a measurement of the collector dissipation. However, it can be challenging to study the instantaneous power from the screen. As a result, an exact solution is provided by the analog multiplier.

DSO Oscilloscope

A DSO oscilloscope (Digital Storage Oscilloscope), is a modern type of oscilloscope that digitizes and stores incoming analog signals before displaying them onscreen. With an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), DSO oscilloscopes transform analog signals into digital data as opposed to conventional analog oscilloscopes, which use a cathode-ray tube (CRT) to display waveforms directly. After that, the digital data is kept in memory, enabling users to view and examine waveforms.

The capacity of DSO oscilloscopes to store and recall waveforms for subsequent usage or analysis is one of its main features. Features like signal averaging, waveform zooming, and measurement cursors are made possible by this digital storage capacity. DSO oscilloscopes are useful in a variety of measuring applications because they usually provide advanced triggering options such as pulse width triggering and serial bus decoding. When compared to conventional analog oscilloscopes, these instruments offer better performance, versatility, and utility, which has made them valuable tools in electronics testing, research, and development.

Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes (MSO)

The mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO) combines the performance of a DPO with the basic functionality of a 16-channel logic analyzer, including parallel/serial bus protocol decoding and triggering.

Similar to how a digital circuit perceives a digital signal, the MSO’s digital channels interpret it as either a logic high or low. This indicates that the MSO isn’t triggered by analog characteristics like ringing, overshoot, and ground bounce as long as they don’t result in logic transitions. A threshold voltage is used by an MSO, just like a logic analyzer, to identify if a signal is logically high or low.

The MSO’s reliable digital triggering, high-resolution acquisition capability, and analysis features make it perfect for swiftly debugging digital circuits. An MSO is perfect for validating and debugging digital circuits since it can quickly identify the root cause of many digital issues by examining both the analog and digital versions of the signal, as demonstrated in Figure 17.

The Four-Channel Oscilloscope

A four-channel oscilloscope consists of four separate input channels for simultaneous measurement and analysis. A typical channel on an oscilloscope has its own input connector and vertical amplifier, so users can connect and see up to four distinct signals at once on the display. With this design, you can capture and analyze complicated waveforms or multiple signals within a single measurement setup with greater adaptability and efficiency.

This oscilloscope variation is fairly simple to use. It includes probes or other measurement tools in which users can connect their desired signals to each of the input channels. After being connected, the oscilloscope will display the waveforms of all linked signals on its screen, with a different trace for each channel. Then, each channel’s voltage scale, time basis, and triggering parameters can be independently changed by the user, which enables personalized signal viewing and analysis. This allows technicians, engineers, and researchers to quickly examine the connections between various signals, spot abnormalities or correlations, and diagnose problems with intricate electronic systems or circuits. 

Mixed Domain Oscilloscopes (MDO)

A mixed domain oscilloscope (MDO) combines an RF spectrum analyzer with an MSO or DPO to enable correlated views of signals from the digital, analog, to RF domains. For instance, the MDO allows you to view time-correlated displays of protocol, state logic, analog, and RF signals within an embedded design. This significantly reduces both the time to insight and the measurement uncertainty between cross-domain events.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are analog oscilloscopes better than digital?

Analog oscilloscopes are typically easier to use than digital oscilloscopes. Analog oscilloscopes are usually better suited for observing low-frequency signals since they can display waveforms with greater accuracy and stability.

What is the difference between a DPO and an MSO oscilloscope?

A DPO (Digital Phosphor Oscilloscope) oscilloscope captures and displays waveform intensity variations over time, providing insight into signal behavior. An MSO (Mixed-Signal Oscilloscope) combines analog and digital channels to capture and analyze both analog and digital signals simultaneously, offering a complete view of system operation.

Can oscilloscopes measure phase differences?

Yes. Oscilloscopes can measure the phase difference between two signals by concurrently displaying them onscreen and using cursors or measurement functions to quantify the time delay between corresponding points on the waveforms. This measurement allows users to analyze the relationship between signals and assess phase differences.