Oscilloscope Software

Oscilloscope Software

Let’s talk about Oscilloscope software. Here’s a good idea. The PC (or Mac) is ubiquitous now days. At least, and especially, in the technical environment. Can you think of a research lab, engineering office, product service center or design engineering center where there would not be a few computers available? And, computers have a display for showing the results of its processing. And, aren’t these professionals principle users of measuring instruments such as the digital oscilloscope? Extending these thoughts to the digital oscilloscope makes it the “good idea” to use the pc as the mainframe for digital oscilloscope function.

If a hardware box is fashioned which has the connections for probes to connect to the measurands, amplification and/or analog to digital conversion it can be connected to a computer where the data is fed into the processing system. The connection can be via the USB port, 1392, serial port or even a printer port. Then what is needed is a oscilloscope software package to manipulate the data for displaying the results of what is being fed into the PC.
Oscilloscopes measure many analog and digital quantities. These data represent the electronic properties of the waveforms, processes or events of a circuit under observation. Converting the information to display formats is the purpose of the oscilloscope software! Whether mesuring analog real-time signals or taking samples of events and storing them in short-term memory for later display, the oscilloscope software package is designed to do that.

Functions Oscilloscope Software Package will support -

An oscilloscope software package will support such quantities, parameters and event functions as:
Amplitude
Peak value
Mean value
Rise time
Phase differences between waveforms
Overshoot +
Overshoot -
Delay time
Period
differential balance
Frequency
Pulse width
Ramp shape
Pulse shape
Comparisons of adjacent or sequential events

And so on. Some oscilloscope software packages can store measurements for later retrieval and computation. If a design group is working on a new design and an alteration of that design is required or considered for an improvement it would be advantageous to pull up previous measurements and compare side by side with the design changes considered. Digital Oscilliscope software systems can do just that.

What does an Oscilloscope Software Package consist of?

What, then, does an oscilloscope software package consist of? Well, lots of code! A typical package may require 5MB to 50MB of space on the hard disk. Downloading the oscilloscope software package onto a PC may require a setup procedure that connects to the hardware box and verifies the functionality of all the components. It may require calibration of the internal processes to make the measurements being recorded as accurate as possible. It may require upgrading from time to time as the manufacturer sends down debugs and upgrades/improvements.

The oscilloscope software package will provide for the screen GUI or display faceplate with selectable parameters such as amplitude, base time period, synch levels, etc. It will also include digital conversion of the parameters being measured for the form they must be in to display them on the screen.

Here is what one screen looks like. This is from PicoScope and is used on their 9000 series USB digital oscilloscopes with 12GHz bandwidth and 16 bit vertical resolution.

Screen Shot Oscilloscope Software Package

The above oscilloscope software GUI (Graphic User Interface) is courtesy of Pico Technology, one of the big producers of USB oscilloscopes and various other measuring instruments.  They write their own software code for their stable of products.

The screen GUI shows all the adjustable parameter settings for reading the types, amplitude, time base and relative comparisons that may be needed for the measurements being conducted.

All the elements of the screen are software driven and are adjustable using the mouse to set the levels according to the anticipated values of the signal being measured.   The results can be stored and/or printed for further examination and comparison.

Here is another software GUI and what it looks like whilst examining three signals simultaneously.

Another Screen Shot

The computer based digital oscilloscope and its software package is fast becoming exceedingly useful.  There are many makers and models to select from.  They vary in price from under $100 USD to several thousand dollars USD.  They are used in the space, medical, information, electrical power, computer design, consumer electronics design and testing laboratories all over the world.  They are not necessarily a replacement for the “stand-alone” hardware oscilloscope designed instruments but, rather,  they augment the potential applications and provide for functionality the differs in many ways from their counterparts.

One final note:  The software code written for these many and various functions is not trivial.  While there are some generic “freeware” oscilloscope software packages around, the examples used above in this article are developed uniquely for the hardware box that goes with it and represent many, many hours of code writing, bench testing, debugging and field testing.  Oscilloscope software is an important aspect of oscilloscope instrument design.