Keeping your world up and running.®

Oscilloscope ABCs

A first look at digital storage oscilloscopes

May 2013

For the longest time, oscilloscopes have been seen by users and manufacturers alike as complicated, high-end tools. The truth is, handheld ScopeMeters are actually much easier to use than you'd think - but no one has taken the time to explain their purpose and basic measurement functions.

The difference between an oscilloscope and a DMM (digital multimeter) comes down to "pictures vs. numbers." A DMM is a tool for making precise measurements of discrete signals, enabling readings of up to eight digits of resolution for the voltage, current or frequency of a signal. A DMM can't visually depict waveforms or reveal transients or harmonics.

A ScopeMeter displays both numeric readings and the shape of the voltage signal's waveform, including its amplitude (voltage) and frequency. With this kind of visual information, a fast transient signal can be isolated, displayed, and measured.

Reach for a ScopeMeter if you want to make both quantitative and qualitative measurements. Use a DMM to make high-precision checks of voltage, current, resistance and other electrical parameters.

This application note includes all the basics for beginning scope users: how oscilloscopes capture and display waveforms, how they're different than DMMs, how to interpret waveforms, how to set up an oscilloscope, and basic troubleshooting techniques.