The State of the Budget ’Scope Market
After digital multimeters, oscilloscopes are the second most common test and measurement instrument used today. Within the spectrum of available benchtop, hand-held, and PC-based scopes, different needs can dictate what the best form factor is for one’s applications. Still, today’s scopes continue to surprise with features not previously found in their category, or disadvantages that have been eliminated with newer technology.
For organizations with restricted budgets, now is the time to take a closer look at what is available in the low-cost end of the market. Thanks to the “trickle-down” of mature features from the high-end of the market, budget oscilloscopes need not be equated with “low-feature,” basic models. Instead, they continue to benefit from the continued innovation and development in the upper end.
When smaller is better, battery-operated, hand-held scopes stand out. For portability, nothing compares to the convenience of being able to move from one installation or job to another. Hand-held scopes are not merely super-sized multimeters with enhanced graphical capabilities. Instead, many models deliver core DSO features and functions in a portable, hand-held form factor.
While PC-based scopes also offer comparable portability, their reliance on a laptop may not make sense in some applications. Handheld scopes also pose an interesting question of value versus cost: some benchtop scopes actually cost less than hand-held scopes on the market, but at the expense of bandwidth and sample rates. In this case, a better use of budget dollars may ironically mean an upgrade to a hand-held scope operating in benchtop duty.
With USB connectivity, users can use a PC for waveform storage, transfer, and analysis. While not full PC-based processing, this connectivity compares to that of a benchtop DSO.
For some, hand-held scopes are seen as the perfect “extra” scope, complementing a primary oscilloscope as a back-up, or as an “on-the-go” alternative. Most hand-held scopes expand their value appeal with a built-in digital multimeter. Not only can a hand-held scope reduce clutter on a benchtop, it can reduce clutter on a purchase order, by eliminating the need for a standalone DMM purchase. For those who use both, having access to voltage, current, resistance, capacitance, diode and continuity functions can be especially convenient. Integrated DMM architecture also benefits the oscilloscope side by increasing input voltage up to 400V, unheard of in benchtop or PC-based models.
With models offering 20-60 MHz input bandwidth, 100 MS/s sample rates, 5.8ns rise time, and a 3.8” TFT color displays with 640x480 resolution, sufficiently impressive performance can be found in a hand-held oscilloscope—performance that also satisfies your organization’s bean counters.
Every DSO application has its own unique challenges and requirements—not to mention budget pressures. Historically, it was easy to decide whether a benchtop, PC-based, or hand-held oscilloscope suited that application. Today, all three categories offer an increasingly sophisticated and overlapping array of capabilities and value ready to redefine preconceived notions about low-cost oscilloscopes.