An EE-Evaluation Engineering article from December 20181 describes how the definition of “mainstream oscilloscope” is in flux, with “high-end” features becoming “mainstream” or even appearing in entry-level scopes. It’s not surprising that last year’s high-performance specs become this year’s mainstream performance specs—such as frequencies reaching 16 GHz, as described in our report beginning on p. 6 of this issue. But other features, too, are becoming prevalent in the mainstream category.
“Examples include jitter, eye diagrams, and FFT, which are now ‘standard,’” according to Steve Sandler, founder and CEO of Picotest. “Some oscilloscopes now offer time-correlated spectrum analysis, including time-independent center-frequency, span, and resolution-bandwidth controls. The introduction of frequency-response-analyzer (FRA) features for the oscilloscope started with Johnnie Hancock at Keysight almost a decade ago. In the past year almost every oscilloscope company has added the ability to perform Bode-plot stability measurements and power-supply rejection-ratio measurements.”
Michael Rizzo, general manager at RIGOL USA, concurs and provides an example. “With the introduction of our new MSO8000 Series oscilloscope, we have brought advanced jitter analysis and real-time eye capability to the mainstream market,” he said. “Customers in the space are demanding greater performance and more advanced analysis capabilities.”
In some cases, features can migrate upwards from lower end scopes. “We introduced frequency-response/Bode plotting with our budget SDS1000X-E platform about a year ago and just recently introduced it on our SDS5000X, which is our flagship oscilloscope line,” said Jason Chonko, applications marketing manager at SIGLENT Technologies North America. “This cross-platform functionality keeps development costs low and provides really useful functionality for customers across the budget spectrum.”
When asked if she has observed the trend of high-end features moving into the mainstream, Kaitlyn Franz, test product manager at Digilent, responded, “In a way, yes. The ‘power creep’ of oscilloscopes is natural—people will always want bigger and better specs, but is that always the best option?” Commenting on one of her company’s pocket-sized USB scope, she said, “Of course there are applications that require very high bandwidth, etc., but what the Analog Discovery 2 lacks in high-end specs, it makes up for with versatility, being mindful of resources and user experience (one of its main selling points is the software—WaveForms SDK—that is constantly updated based on user feedback).”
User experience is, of course, a key concern, and one way to provide an enhanced UI is through a large screen. “In the past year, 4K UHD displays became much more affordable,” said Trevor Smith, business development manager at Pico Technology. “They are being widely adopted for use with our PC-based oscilloscopes, which gives users more clarity when viewing, analyzing, and measuring complex waveforms.” The good news for users of USB scopes is that they needn’t by a new instrument to take advantage of improved display and PC technology.
Also evolving is the way in which instruments such as oscilloscopes are being used. Franz identified a trend away from traditional offices toward distributed teams where a centralized lab space is not available or at least not readily accessible. In such an environment, affordability can be increasingly important. “More and more companies are starting to become distributed in both their soft skills teams, but also in engineering,” she said. “With a distributed team, you can't necessarily have an entire bench for each different office or each at home office. So, it's really helpful for the engineers to have something on their desk that they can reach for to solve problems without having to go find a lab that has all of that equipment.”
Hockett, Mike, “Once high-end scope features now becoming mainstream,” EE-Evaluation Engineering, December 2018, p. 10.