The oscilloscope is by far one of the more useful electronic measurements available. The viewing capabilities of the oscilloscope make it possible to see and quantify various waveform characteristics, such as phase relationships, amplitudes, and durations. While oscilloscopes come in a variety of configurations and presentations, the basic operation is typically the same. Most oscilloscopes in general bench or shop applications use a cathode-ray tube (CRT), which is the device or screen that displays the waveforms.
The CRT is a vacuum instrument that contains an electron gun, which emits a very narrow and focused beam of electrons. A phosphorescent coat applied to the back of the screen forms the screen. The beam is electronically aimed and accelerated so that the electron beam strikes the screen. When the electron beam strikes the screen, light is emitted at the point of impact.
Figure 12-164 shows the basic components of the CRT with a block diagram. The heated cathode emits electrons. The magnitude of voltage on the control grid determines the actual flow of electrons and thus controls the intensity of the electron beam. The acceleration anodes increase the speed of the electrons, and the focusing anode narrows the beam down to a fine point. The surface of the screen is also an anode and assists in the acceleration of the electron beam.
The purpose of the vertical and horizontal deflection plates is to bend the electron beam and position it to a specific point of the screen. [Figure 12-165] By providing a neutral or zero voltage to a deflection plate, the electron beam is unaffected. By applying a negative voltage to a plate, the electron beam is repelled and driven away from the plate. Finally, by applying a positive voltage, the electron beam is drawing to the plate. Figure 12-165 provides a few possible plate voltage combinations and the resultant beam position.
To get a visual representation of the input signal, an internally generated saw-tooth voltage is generated and then applied to the horizontal deflection plates. Figure 12-166 illustrates that the saw-tooth is a pattern of voltage applied, which begins at a negative voltage and increases at a constant rate to a positive voltage.
This applied varying voltage draws or traces the electron beam from the far left of the screen to the far right side of the screen. The resulting display is a straight line, if the sweep rate is fast enough. This saw-tooth applied voltage is a repetitive signal so that the beam is repeatedly swept across the tube. The rate at which the saw-tooth voltage goes from negative to positive is determined by the frequency.
This rate then establishes the sweep rate of the beam. When the saw-tooth reaches the end of its sweep from left to right, the beam then rapidly returns to the left side and is ready to make another sweep. During this time, the electron beam is stopped or blanked out and does not produce any kind of a trace. This period of time is called flyback.
If this same signal were applied to the vertical plates, it would also produce a vertical line by causing the beam to trace from the down position to the up position.
Tracing a Sine Wave
Reproducing the sine wave on the oscilloscope combines both the vertical and horizontal deflection patterns. [Figure 12-167] If the sine wave voltage signal is applied across the vertical deflection plates, the result will be the vertical beam oscillation up and down on the screen. The amount that the beam moves above the centerline depends on the peak value of the voltage.
While the beam is being swept from the left to the right by the horizontal plates, the sine wave voltage is being applied to the vertical plates, causing the form of the input signal to be traced out on the screen.
Control Features on an Oscilloscope
While there are many different styles of oscilloscopes, which range from the simple to the complex, they all have some controls in common. Apart from the screen and the ON/OFF switch, some of these controls are listed as follows:
- Horizontal Position—allows for the adjustment of the neutral horizontal position of the beam. Use this control to reposition the waveform display in order to have a better view of the wave or to take measurements.
- Vertical Position—moves the traced image up or down allowing better observations and measurements.
- Focus—controls the electron beam as it is aimed and converges on the screen. When the beam is in sharp focus, it is narrowed down to a very fine point and does not have a fuzzy appearance.
- Intensity—essentially the brightness of the trace. Controlling the flow of electrons onto the screen varies the intensity. Do not keep the intensity too high for extended testing or when the beam is motionless and forms a dot on the screen. This can damage the screen.
- Seconds/Division—a time-based control that sets the horizontal sweep rate. Basically, the switch is used to select the time interval that each division on the horizontal scale represents. These divisions can be seconds, milliseconds, or even microseconds. A simple example would be if the technician had the seconds/division control set to 10 μS. If this technician is viewing a waveform that has a period of 4 divisions on the screen, then the period would be 40 μS. The frequency of this waveform can then be determined by taking the inverse of the period. In this case, 1⁄40 μS equals a frequency of 25 kHz.
- Volts/Division—used to select the voltage interval that each division on the vertical scale represents. For example, suppose each vertical division was set to equal 10 mV. If a waveform was measured and had a peak value of 4 divisions, then the peak value in voltage would be 40 mV.
- Trigger—The trigger control provides synchronization between the saw-tooth horizontal sweep and the applied signal on the vertical plates. The benefit is that the waveform on the screen appears to be stationary and fixed and not drifting across the screen. A triggering circuit is used to initiate the start of a sweep rather than the fixed saw-tooth sweep rate. In a typical oscilloscope, this triggering signal comes from the input signal itself at a selected point during the signal’s cycle. The horizontal signal goes through one sweep, retraces back to the left side and waits there until it is triggered again by the input signal to start another sweep.
Flat Panel Color Displays for Oscilloscopes
While the standard CRT design of oscilloscope is still in service, the technology of display and control has evolved into use of the flat panel monitors. Furthermore, the newer oscilloscopes can even be integrated with the common personal computer (PC). [Figure 12-168]
Some of the features of this technology include easy data capture, data transfer, documentation, and data analysis. Hand-held oscilloscopes are now available that can perform the functions of larger bench type equipment but are mobile and great tools for trouble shooting. [Figure 12-169]
Traditionally, the meters that technicians have used have been the analog voltmeter, ammeter, and the ohmmeter. These have usually been combined into the same instrument and called a multimeter or a VOM (volt-ohm-milliammeter). This approach has been both convenient and economical. Digital multimeters (DMM) and digital voltmeters (DVM) are more common due to their ease of use. These meters are easier to read and provide greater accuracy when compared to the older analog units with needle movement. The multimeter’s single-coil movement requires a number of scales, which are not always easy to read accurately. In addition, the loading characteristics due to the internal resistance sometimes affect the circuit and the measurements. Not only does the DVM offer greater accuracy and less ambiguity, but also higher input resistance, which has less of a loading effect and influence on a circuit.