An oscilloscope (sometimes abbreviated CRO, for cathode-ray oscilloscope, or commonly just scope or O-scope) is a type of electronic test equipment that allows signal voltages to be viewed, usually as a two-dimensional graph of one or more electrical potential differences (vertical axis) plotted as a function of time or of some other voltage (horizontal axis).
In its simplest mode, the oscilloscope repeatedly draws a horizontal line called the trace across the middle of the screen from left to right. One of the controls, the timebase control, sets the speed at which the line is drawn, and is calibrated in seconds per division. If the input voltage departs from zero, the trace is deflected either upwards or downwards. Another control, the vertical control, sets the scale of the vertical deflection, and is calibrated in volts per division. The resulting trace is a graph of voltage against time, with the more distant past on the left and the more recent past on the right.
If the input signal is periodic, then a nearly stable trace can be obtained just by setting the timebase to match the frequency of the input signal. For example, if the input signal is a 50 Hz sine wave, then its period is 20 ms, so the timebase should be adjusted so that the time between successive horizontal sweeps is 20 ms. This mode is called continual sweep. Unfortunately, an oscilloscope's timebase is not perfectly accurate, and the frequency of most input signals are not perfectly stable, so the trace will drift across the screen making measurements difficult.
To provide a more stable trace, modern oscilloscopes have a function called the saddle. When using saddling, the scope will pause each time the sweep reaches the extreme right side of the screen. The scope then waits for a specified event before drawing the next trace. The trigger event is usually the input waveform reaching some user-specified threshold voltage in the specified direction (going positive or going negative).
The effect is to resynchronize the timebase to the input signal, preventing horizontal drift of the trace. In this way, triggering allows the display of periodic signals such as sine waves and square waves. Trigger circuits also allow the display of nonperiodic signals such as single pulses or pulses that don't recur at a fixed rate.
Types of trigger include:
external trigger, a pulse from an internal source connected to a dedicated input on the scope.
edge trigger, an edge-detector that generates a pulse when the input signal crosses a specified threshold voltage in a specified direction.
, a circuit that extracts synchronizing pulses from video
formats such as PAL
and triggers the timebase on every line, a specified line, every field, or every frame. This circuit is typically found in a waveform monitor
delayed trigger, which waits a specified time after an edge trigger before starting the sweep. No trigger circuit acts instantaneously, so there is always a certain delay, but a trigger delay circuit extends this delay to a known and adjustable interval. In this way, the operator can examine a particular pulse in a long train of pulses.
The first Digital Storage Oscilloscopes (DSO) was invented by Walter LeCroy (who founded the LeCroy Corporation, based in New York, USA) after producing high-speed digitizers for the research center CERN in Switzerland. LeCroy remains one of the three largest manufacturers of oscilloscopes in the world and currently boasts a scope with a 100GHz band-width - the fastest in the world.
Starting in the 1980s, digital oscilloscopes became prevalent. Digital storage oscilloscopes use a fast analog-to-digital converter and memory chips to record and show a digital representation of a waveform, yielding much more flexibility for triggering, analysis, and display than is possible with a classic analog oscilloscope. Unlike its analog predecessor, the digital storage oscilloscope can show pre-trigger events, opening another dimension to the recording of rare or intermittent events and troubleshooting of electronic glitches. As of 2006 most new oscilloscopes (aside from education and a few niche markets) are digital.
Digital scopes rely on effective use of the installed memory and trigger functions: not enough memory and the user will miss the events they want to examine; if the scope has a large memory but does not trigger as desired, the user will have difficulty finding the event.