What Does Oscilloscope Mean?

An oscilloscope is a piece of equipment used to measure electronic signals, and is found in many scientific laboratories. It is used to observe varying-signal voltages on a two-dimensional grid representing time. When connected to a power source through a probe, the oscilloscope displays the corresponding real-time waveform immediately. Although mostly used in scientific and engineering fields, they are also used in other fields such as telecommunications and medicine.


Techopedia Explains Oscilloscope

There are different types of oscilloscopes, namely digital and analog oscilloscopes, and their variations such as:

  • Analog sampling oscilloscopes
  • Handheld oscilloscopes
  • Computer-based oscilloscopes
  • Mixed-signal oscilloscopes

The difference in parameters such as sampling rates, memory depth, number of channels, probe requirement, bandwidth and analysis capability determines which oscilloscope is best suited for a given environment. Oscilloscopes have three major components: an electron gun, horizontal and vertical deflecting plates and a phosphor screen. A steady stream of electrons are provided by the electron gun, which moves in a constant direction. The electrons pass through the horizontal and vertical deflecting plates and the resulting electric field deflects the electrons to move vertically or horizontally. The electron beam thus produced hits the phosphor screen and produces a display on the monitor of the oscilloscope.

Oscilloscopes can measure the frequency and amplitude of a signal, as well as display the shape of the signal formed. It also provides all qualitative and quantitative information on time interval, rise time and distortion of the signal formed. The real-time analysis that can be provided is mostly useful for diagnostics. On-electrical signals like audio can be converted to voltages and observed on an oscilloscope. Adjustment is possible with knobs and controls found on the front panel.

However, as they are designed primarily for waveform observation, oscilloscopes are less accurate than other testing devices to measure direct current voltages. Compared to other electronic and electrical measuring devices, oscilloscopes are costly and sophisticated. Maintenance and repair needs can be higher for oscilloscopes, and learning to operate them can be more difficult than other similar equipment.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.