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O s c i l lo s co p e s

Why analog?
Beyond any doubt the oscilloscope is the most important measuring instrument if voltage signals are
to be characterized in the time domain. Hence the analog oscilloscope is frequently still the first
choice, even in the socalled digital age. This article describes some qualities of these instruments.

Fig. 1: The oscilloscope HM303-6 is the lowest cost Hameg model.

Often a limited budget may have been the primary rea- (No) false measurements by pressing a button
son to select an analog scope because, within the next DSO’s are superior for special applications like very low
years, the prices of DSO’s of comparable bandwidth will frequency phenomena (e.g. sub-Hz range) or single
not come close to their analog counterparts. This “ana- events, but they require an enormous knowhow of sig-
log investment“ done the user will be astonished by the nal processing theory. In most DSO’s the memory depth
simplicity and versatility of his instrument and the crisp is by far insufficient (e.g. < 10 KB per channel). With 10 KB
display of his measurement results, and, while his col- and a sweep speed of 100 ms/cm the sampling rate will
league is still bewildered by the complicated menu of be only 100 KHz or 10 us distance between points; if
his DSO and fumbling with the manual, he already there are any frequency components < 50 KHz in the
achieved first results and detected faults. Even the low input signal the display will be faulty. Analog scopes are
cost Hameg oscilloscopes (HM303-6, bandwidth 35 MHz, free from such aliasing problems; in the worst case the
price 550 E excl. VAT) excel by their sensitivity of signal display will be somewhat rounded because fre-
1 mV/cm, a vital buying decision feature for applications quency components beyond the – 3 dB bandwidth (e.g.
in industry, service, schools and hobby (Fig. 1) Fre- 35 MHz) will be attenuated. High-end analog scopes
quently, customers who came to like those features with bandwidths of 150 to 200 MHz will display fast sig-
decided later to buy higher bandwidth instruments from nals more precisely and also offer measuring comfort
150 to 200 MHz. like readout, cursors, auto-measure, counter functions,

and a 2nd time base. A 2nd time base allows e.g. the
expansion of signal details displayed at slow sweep
speeds, e.g. 100 ms/cm, up to the fastest time base avai-
lable, e.g. 5 ns/cm.

Oscilloscope noise – unknown with analog scopes

DSO’s need a/d converters for the conversion of the
voltage to be measured to a digital respresentation. The
analog values will be rounded to the next LSB, the resul-
ting difference between the analog original and the dig-
itized value is the quantizing error resp. noise. Conse-
quently, analog scopes are free from this noise as they
need no a/d converters, their intrinsic noise is minimal.

High resolution
With analog scopes the limits of resolution are given by
the trace width and the vision of the user, because the Fig. 2: DSO display of a signal superimposed by a second signal:
trace can reach any position on the screen, there are no false apparent low frequency „jumping“ superposition.
limitations to the resolution. In contrast to this, the res-
olution of DSO’s is always limited. The Y resolution is
determined by the a/d converter, with the usual 8 bits
there are 256 positions available. Some headroom sub-
tracted to allow for some overdrive e.g. 200 points dis-
tributed over 8 cm vertical will yield just 25 positions per
division. The analog scope does not suffer from such

Unexcelled signal acquisition and display rate.

Another vital criterion is the signal acquisition and dis-
play rate. With analog scopes there is almost no loss of
information as they can realize 500 K to 2.5 million sig-
nal displays per second, a performance unattainable
even by 50,000 E DSO’s. This figure illustrates the ad-
vantages of a cathode ray tube. Such values are beyond
the reach of any graphic card or LCD. Fig. 2 shows a sig-
nal with a superimposed second signal as displayed by
a typical DSO with low signal acquisition rate, Fig. 3
shows the true signal on an analog scope.
Fig. 3: The same signal on an analog scope shows that
Component tester helps the superimposed signal is a high frequency signal.
to characterize components.
The integrated Component Tester of Hameg scopes
allows to measure resistors, capacitors, coils, diodes,
and the e-b- and c-b – diodes of discrete transistors
even in the circuit – a feature highly appreciated for
service and repair.

A buyer faces a difficult decision between an analog

scope and a DSO. Users may find it difficult to operate a
DSO, some others may not miss functions like XY meas-
urements using Lissajous displays. The above men-
tioned advantages of analog scopes speak for them-
selves and should aid in the buying decision.

If the budget allows a CombiScope may be a good

choice. Hameg offers several models from 1,500 E and
100 MHz (HM1008-2), the top model is the HM2008 with
200 MHz bandwidth, 2 GSa/s sampling rate, 2 MB per
channel for just under 2,000 E. All these models feature
the choice of analog or DSO mode by just pressing a
button; they combine hence both scope types without Fig. 4: Analog display of a video signal:
any compromise. time measurements using cursors.