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What is an oscilloscope?


A few of us at MCS come from a non-technical background and don’t know a spectrum analyser from a signal generator. 

Rohde & Schwarz RTO1014 Digital OscilloscopeTo help us gain a better understanding of all things test equipment, we’re putting together a series of “what is” articles and thought we’d share them with any other like-minded non-techies out there.

This first on our list is the oscilloscope – or scope, for those - like me - who have trouble saying it.

An oscilloscope is a piece of test equipment that produces a picture of an electrical signal. The original analogue scopes work pretty much the same as an old cathode ray tube (CRT) telly. The image is produced by an electron beam hitting a phosphorescent surface.

Like TVs, oscilloscopes have moved on and the majority of scopes we sell today are digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs), our current bestseller being the Rigol DS4052.

Scopes are either benchtop or handheld and many different models are available to cover varying bandwidths.

So what are oscilloscopes used for?

The oscilloscope is a general purpose piece of equipment and can measure many different things including sound, pressure, heat and light.

For example, if you connected a signal generator up to an oscilloscope the picture generated on the scope could tell you:

  • The strength of the signal
  • The frequency of the signal
  • Whether something was interfering with the signal
  • Whether the signal generator is working properly.

So there you go – a very quick and simple explanation of the oscilloscope. I’m sure there’s plenty we’ve missed out or got wrong so please feel free to send us your comments