What are Oscilloscopes?
An Oscilloscope, also known as a ‘scope’ in informal terms, is an instrument used to test electronic devices through electronic signals produced by the device. The device displays the information from the signal as a graph showing a relationship between two or more variables on two axes, the vertical and horizontal axis. The horizontal normally displays time, whereas the vertical displays voltage. The graph ca be described in terms of a number of properties including amplitude, frequency, wavelength and a myriad others.
Electric signals are not the only phenomenon that can be investigated through an Oscilloscope. The device can be used to study a wide range of physical phenomenon since almost any physical phenomenon such as sound and vibrations can easily be converted to electricity or voltage. Oscilloscopes have evolved together with most of the technology world from analogue based devices to digital devices offering a number of advantages. Their everyday life applications traverse almost all the important fields known to man including Medicine, Engineering, Laboratory Science and Telecommunications.
Two types of Oscilloscopes exist; and these are Cathode Ray Oscilloscopes, which constitute the analogue version, and Digital Oscilloscopes, which are their digital brothers.
CATHODE RAY OSCILLOSCOPES
The Cathode Ray Scope was developed in the 1890’s and is the earlier of the two. The device uses a special tube known as the Cathode Ray tube/CRT which is used to produce an electronic beam that is in turn utilized to generate a series of patterns or a graph on an electronic screen. The graph or pattern is then studied to understand the functionality of the test device.
The device has two main components; the evacuated glass container and an electron gun. The evacuated glass container incorporates a phosphorescent coating at one end, just like that of a TV screen. The electron gun fires a beam into the chamber where it goes through a pair of deflection plates. These plates are setup in such a way that they deflect the beam in a horizontal and vertical pattern, which is then shown on the fluorescent screen where the graph is produced. A graph can be plotted by deflecting the electron beam through varying the voltages and currents through the deflection plates.
In simple terms, Cathode Ray Oscilloscopes generate information/graphs by utilizing the effect of the voltage generated by the test device on the electron beam in the tube. The graphs are then studied for research purposes or evaluation of a particular electronic equipment.
Just like the advancement from analogue computers to higher quality digital computers with LCD monitors, the Digital Scopes came up as an upgrade of the Cathode Ray Oscilloscope with the advancement of technology from analogue to digital products. The Scope basically converts the analogue signal to a digital form by means of a converter and then displays the information in a waveform on an LCD panel. These Oscilloscopes have distinct advantages over their older versions. These include offering information storage, faster processing and providing comprehensive data analysis. They also have the ability to connect to a number of devices at the same time.
TYPES OF DIGITAL OSCILLOSCOPES
Three main types exist and these are separated by the efficiency and different capabilities.
These have low repetition rates, frequencies and need multiple channels. They are mainly adapted for storage functions including recording, analyzing and printing the data.
These employ a more advanced technology that enhances speed and accuracy of the whole process from acquisition of the signal from the test device to displaying of the results on the graph. It is considered the best type for evaluating and addressing irregular and erratic signals.
3. Sampling Oscilloscope
This is a more powerful upgrade of the Phosphor with the ability to work with extremely high frequency signals and at elevated band widths. The Scope has an unparalleled ability to process rapid signals, and features the most expensive options on the market.
Having recap the basics of the oscilloscope, let’s plunge into what the market has for us by looking at some of the leading Oscilloscopes on the market today.
1. Rigol DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscope
Rigor Technologies has established themselves in the past few decades with a string of Scopes that have won the hearts of both Hobbyists and professional engineers. The Company introduced itself in the digital world in 1998 and has since produced top of the range devices including our first pick in the discussion named the Rigor DS1054Z Digital Oscilloscope. The device seems to boasts of highlight features that we will consider in our review. Let’s get started with the key design and functional features.
The device comes in a 4 channel scope which implies it can accommodate more than 1 device for testing and a groundbreaking Ultra-vision technology, with a capable memory capacity of 12Mpts. It operates at a bandwidth of 50MGHz and comes in a solid build with a combination of 13 x 7 x 5 inches in Length, Width and Height respectively. When it comes to portability, the accompanying weight of 6.6 pounds shouldn’t be much of a threat to your hands and shoulders if you are a frequent traveler.
In terms of the sample rate, it has of 1GSa/s to show for it and can accommodate a high waveform stretching to 30000wfms/s. The waveform is recordable and playable in real time for up to 60000 frames. Furthermore, the Scope also accommodates USB function and Ethernet.
WHAT WE THINK
In general, any electronics enthusiast familiar with Oscilloscopes will notice that its feature set provides way more than just an average device would do. The device has an above average speed, bandwidth and frequency range that caters for an exceptionally efficient system that should provide a simplified experience. The 4 channels provide an additional advantage in terms of usability as it makes sure that the device accommodates several test devices at once. Furthermore, a 12 Mpts upgradable memory also provides a highly capable memory feature than most similar Scopes within the same price range.
However, on the negative note, the only impurities in the Scopes elegant design are the size of the screen and the noise it produces when functioning. By its standards, you would expect a slightly bigger size to complement the incredible LCD screen but in all fairness these are not necessarily deal breakers.
THE EXPERIENCE SO FAR…
A diligent research across the web for current users’ general response led us to one conclusion. The device is certainly a welcome bride in the engineering and Hobbyist community with most of the users praising its elegant and yet highly efficient and precise performance.
SDS1202X-E Series Digital Oscilloscope
The second pick of our review is the SDS1202X-E Series Digital Oscilloscope. This device is a product of one of the leading manufacturers of Oscilloscopes in the world by the name Siglent. It is one of the latest products in a series that displays revered across the industry today. Without wasting much of your time, let’s see if it’s worth all the online blurb we are witnessing.
This is a Digital Oscilloscope that boasts of one of the most advanced technologies in the Scopes world, known as Super Phosphor (SPO) technology. In terms of the bandwidth, the Scope has a 200MGHz bandwidth, a sample rate of 1GSa/s with a supporting recording length of 14Mpts. Furthermore, it boasts of an above average waveform capture rate of 400000 frames/sec, features a one million FFT (a complex function that enhances its frequency resolution), a co-processor, and a range of triggers to enhance the overall functionality and usability of the device.
In the display features department, the device comes with a 7 inch TF-LCD display with a powerful resolution of 800×480. Additionally, it also features a number of impressive interface types for storage versatility including USB host, LAN USBTMC.
The Oscilloscopes feature set is hardly comparable to most of the top range Oscilloscopes. All the major functions, including the speed, frequency, bandwidth, sampling rate and FFT cater for a highly precise and efficient system that should be a joy to the dedicated electronic engineer. The LCD-TFT display provides an adequately sized and advanced component that rivals most Scopes, and it also offers a lot of options and controls that cater for both the beginner and the advanced observer who is up for the little details. Another advantage that contrast it to our previous Oscilloscope in the list is the quietness it embraces during operation. It seems the Oscilloscope is capable of providing a great performance without the nagging noise that most of its competitors produce to the discomfort of the users.
On a negative side, the powerful features seem to come with a rather hefty price tag which may not be exactly within the favor of the budget buyer.
A long stroll across a number of responses across the world saw us with the general impression that the device is within the favor of most consumers, thus vindicating its ability to live to up the promise set forth by the incredible feature set.
Siglent Technologies SDS1052DL
Next-up on our expedition is a cousin of our previous Siglent Technology product; the SDS1052DL. Our research showed some striking aspects which set the device apart thus earning it a place in our review. Let’s put it under a bit of scrutiny.
This is a 50 MHz-150MHz Bandwidth Oscilloscope with a sampling rate of 500MSa/s. The memory augments its feature set with 32Kpts to show against its competitors. Display-wise, the SDS1052DL+ Oscilloscope features a TFT-LCD, 7 inch color display. When it comes to the size, the device combines 6.2×12.7×5.3 in Height, Length and Width respectively. In terms of channels, it falls a little short when compared with what we’ve considered so far by settling for a single channel only. It also features triggers which serve the purpose of isolating particular signals and also includes some USB and LAN functionality to enhance storage and sharing options.
Though it doesn’t necessarily edge the Scopes we’ve considered so far, it does provide for an exciting prospect of a high performance device with great features. The associated speed, sampling rate and a powerful display unit makes it one of the best on the market today. Furthermore, the overall build is quite a reliable and elegant creation which should add to the excitement of the Hobbyist.
On the other hand, the device seems to come a little shot when it comes to the noise-control department. While as its previous cousin defeats the noise effectively, it lags behind thus inviting some crisis in some circles.
CURRENT USERS OPINION
Overall, there is a general satisfaction among current users with one voice echoing positive themes relating to durability, accuracy and high efficiency.
Hantek DSO5072P Digital Oscilloscope
Our last moments with the leading Oscilloscopes on the market will be spent with the Hantek DSO5072P. The device seems to be enjoying a fair share of popularity, owing to its rather impressive array of features and performance. Let’s see what it features department has in store.
The digital oscilloscope features a 7 inch TFT display embedded in an 11.” x 15.8” x 7.9” durable casing. The display boasts a standout resolution of 800×480 dots per inch and the whole unit weighs no more than 4.59 pounds. It operates on a 70 MHz bandwidth and a sampling rate of 1 GSa/s. Memory-wise, it has a depth of 40K which not bad when compared to most models on the market. The Scope also accommodates several types of triggers including pulse, video, slope overtime and many more. Furthermore, the device incorporates auto-measurement functions for important parameters including frequency, Period, Mean and cyclic RMS.
Firstly, when it comes to initial indicators of superior performance like the bandwidth, sampling rates, storage capacity and LCD quality, the device definitely belongs to some of the best profiles on the market today. It may not really measure up to the first two Scopes that we considered but it definitely provides almost every capability that a seasoned engineer or hobbyist can appreciate to satisfaction. The second obvious advantage the device brings on the table is the durable build quality and the system as a whole. The materials used guarantee a long term solution if handled with care and it’s evident that the designers took their time to assemble a system that is designed to withstand the constant electro-physical insults. Thirdly, though there is much to offer in terms of features, the price tag seems to be budget friendly thus making it one of the most popular Oscilloscopes on the market. Lastly, the usability and the LCD functions seem to be nothing short of the quality that characterizes the most advanced screens on the market today
CURRENT USERS’ THOUGHTS
A keen eye across the experience so far according to current users shows an impressive feat achieved by the device. It is generally hard to find some disgruntled customers ready to take revenge on the manufacturer for a supposed rip off. The Hatek brand certainly deserves a loud and long round of applause.
Oscilloscopes remain instrumental in the monitoring and maintenance of almost all the essential areas of our society including Medicine, engineering, Telecommunications and laboratories. They provide the basis of a clear understanding of how our treasured machines electronics function on a day-to-day basis and also champion some of the crucial research in our labs. Choosing the best Oscilloscopes for ones needs begins with understanding the principles behind the devices and then applying the knowledge to get hold of the best as we’ve provided on our list. All the best as you delve deeper into the exciting world of the science behind the machines that have transformed our world with endless possibilities.