From analog oscilloscopes to next-generation analog signal measurements, what has been the process of oscilloscope innovation?
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From analog oscilloscopes to next-generation analog signal measurements, what has been the process of oscilloscope innovation?

Posted Date: 2024-01-15

Author: Tektronix Technology

From the birth of Tektronix in 1946 to the beginning of the new year in 2024, oscilloscopes have continued to improve from the first commercial oscilloscope to analog oscilloscopes to digital oscilloscopes, and now the next generation of analog signal measurements. What has Tektronix done? As we bid farewell to the old and welcome the new, let's explore Tektronix's innovation history and track the development trends of oscilloscopes.

The history of Tektronix oscilloscopes dates back more than 70 years. At the time, Howard Vollum and Jack Murdock had never thought of starting a business company. It wasn't until December 1945 that two friends from Southeast Portland drafted articles of incorporation for their electronics company, defining their business as "the installation, repair, service and sale, purchase, manufacture and other means of acquiring and A business that traded in radios and other instruments. But what they really had in mind was "other instruments," which were cathode ray oscilloscopes.

The origin of commercial oscilloscopes

Vollum was a talented, albeit taciturn, young electronics engineer with a physics degree from Reed College and a Legion of Merit for his wartime radar work in the Signal Corps, of which he served as president and chief engineer. Murdock, a prewar electrical store owner with a cheerful personality and a keen business mind, served as vice president and general manager.

As technical director, Vollum decided to have Tektronix produce a unique instrument, the oscilloscope, known as the engineer's eye. Vollum knew from his radar work that commercial oscilloscopes at the time had changed little since World War I, but sadly this was not enough as they provided often impressionistic images of electrical signals rather than relevant At that time, he was convinced that this kind of precise measurement was really needed by the new generation of engineers.

He believed that a more sophisticated instrument would become indispensable in the development of radar, radio, television, and related technologies that had not yet been invented. However, he estimated that the entire world market does not exceed 700 units. That fit the ambitions of Vollum and Murdock, who envisioned Tektronix as a small company with a family atmosphere, perhaps a dozen employees on its payroll.

While Murdock began buying and stockpiling all the remaining electronics the company could afford, Vollum went to work in the basement of his parents' house and created a massive contraption called the 501. It was 18 inches tall, twice as long, twice as wide, and weighed almost as much as its creator, but it worked. Before long, Vollum's bench was sitting with a scaled-down production prototype of the 511, about the size of a single-drawer filing cabinet, with louvers on the sides and a 5-inch cathode ray tube screen on the surface, surrounded by 30 Black Knob, it weighs 65 pounds and is considered portable and can be lifted by one person.

In this way, Tektronix became the founder of commercial oscilloscopes. In 1946, Tektronix developed the Vollumscope, the world's first commercial oscilloscope, which used a large number of transistors and was the fastest, most accurate and most portable oscilloscope at the time.

As the "eyes" of engineers, oscilloscopes can convert electrical signals invisible to the naked eye into visual images, and are widely used in electronic measurement, debugging, education and other fields.

Since its establishment in 1946, Tektronix has been the global leader in oscilloscope technology. For more than 70 years, it has continuously introduced new products, from analog oscilloscopes to digital oscilloscopes, and then to new era oscilloscopes. Continuously advancing with the times with new features and new experiences, Tektronix is ​​always at the forefront of oscilloscope innovation.

Looking back to the days of analog oscilloscopes

Analog oscilloscopes gradually made Tektronix stand out in the industry. In the 1940s and 1950s, Tektronix introduced a series of classic analog oscilloscopes, such as the 511, 521, and 541 models. These oscilloscopes use cathode ray tube (CRT) display technology to display the waveform of electrical signals in real time, providing engineers with an intuitive and reliable measurement tool. Such devices are able to represent electrical signals graphically, converting the voltage into a visible form and displaying it on a screen. This conversion is of vital significance to our observation of the behavior of electrical signals (such as frequency, amplitude, and distortion), and can help us intuitively understand various characteristics of electronic signals.


Model 511

The normal operation of an analog oscilloscope is achieved through the joint action of several key components, including cathode ray tube CRT, vertical amplifier, time base, horizontal amplifier, and power supply. CRT is the core of the entire analog oscilloscope operation. The electron beam in it can form the visible trajectory of the measured electrical signal. The process includes vertical amplification, time base control, and horizontal amplification.

These versatile oscilloscopes are used by teaching laboratories, electronics repair departments, R&D facilities, and hobbyists for a variety of teaching and troubleshooting tasks. As a teaching tool, analog oscilloscopes integrate theoretical electronics concepts with practical applications, providing students with invaluable practical information.

There is something beautiful about the way analog oscilloscopes display waveforms, especially in fields such as audio engineering where subtle differences in waveforms are important. In the world of audio engineering, analog oscilloscopes are vital for analyzing audio signals, assessing sound quality, and ensuring the fidelity of recording and live settings. Nowadays, more and more enthusiasts and professionals are becoming obsessed with retro electronic products, and analog oscilloscopes are compatible with various old technologies, so they have become an indispensable and important tool when repairing such products.

Analog oscilloscopes can be customized and modified to increase bandwidth, improve sensitivity, or use them for artistic purposes; this is a unique feature of this type of oscilloscope.

Although analog oscilloscopes have the above unique advantages, compared with digital oscilloscopes, analog oscilloscopes still have disadvantages such as limited storage space and lack of advanced features. However, specific dedicated application areas still ensure that analog oscilloscopes have a certain degree of practicality.

The evolution of digital oscilloscopes

While praising the great innovation of analog oscilloscopes, we will not forget the great changes that digital oscilloscopes have brought to us. These advanced tools greatly enhance the functionality of the simulation model:
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Enhanced data analysis: Digital oscilloscopes have improved data storage and retrieval capabilities, helping users perform more comprehensive signal analysis.
Accuracy and reliability: Information in digital format provides more accurate readings, which is critical for complex electronic testing.
Ease of use: The modern interface ensures that the digital oscilloscope is easier to use, thereby reducing the learning cost for new users.


With the development of digital technology, Tektronix launched a digital oscilloscope, Tektronix 465, in the 1970s. A powerful portable transistor oscilloscope that quickly became a standard instrument for digital logic designers, it was twice used in the digital design revolution, helping the video game industry birth Pong and the first personal computer with high-resolution color graphics. Apple II. Since then, analog oscilloscopes began to give way to digital oscilloscopes in the 1980s. After the 1990s, Tektronix continued to launch new digital oscilloscope products, such as DPO, MDO, MSO and other series, constantly improving the performance indicators of oscilloscopes such as bandwidth, sampling rate, and storage depth.

A digital oscilloscope is an indispensable tool for anyone who designs, manufactures or repairs electronic equipment. In today's fast-paced world, engineers need the best tools to solve their measurement challenges quickly and accurately. As the eyes of an engineer, digital oscilloscopes are key to meeting today's demanding measurement challenges.

The uses of digital oscilloscopes are not limited to electronics. With the appropriate sensors, digital oscilloscopes can measure a variety of phenomena. A sensor is a device that generates an electrical signal in response to a physical stimulus such as sound, mechanical stress, pressure, light, or heat. Microphones are sensors that convert sound into electrical signals.

Everyone from physicists to service technicians use digital oscilloscopes. Automotive engineers use digital oscilloscopes to correlate analog data from sensors with serial data from engine control units; medical researchers use digital oscilloscopes to measure brain waves. The application possibilities are endless.

A new generation of oscilloscopes in recent years

Entering the 21st century, Tektronix has launched a series of new era oscilloscopes, such as MSO5 series, MSO6 series, MDO3, MSO4, as well as the new 2 series and the just launched 4 series B MSO series. These oscilloscopes use the latest technology, such as high-definition display, touch operation, wireless connection, etc., to provide engineers with more convenient and efficient measurement tools.

In recent years, the innovation of mixed-signal oscilloscopes has enabled them to better adapt to various application scenarios and meet user needs in different fields. Taking the new 2 series MSO as an example, it focuses on customer experience and creates a new personal test terminal that serves the majority of engineers. concept, achieving thin and light portability, as well as more comprehensive testing and analysis functions. The new 2 series can be equipped with built-in functions such as arbitrary function generator (AFG), pattern generator, voltmeter and frequency counter, successfully integrating multiple instrument functions into the same device, reducing the need to carry or purchase While reducing the number of instruments, it also increases the number of tasks that can be completed. The new Series 2 can move seamlessly between the workbench and the test site, expanding new application scenarios for traditional oscilloscopes.

Then there are the newly released 4 Series B MSOs, targeted at embedded product designers who require exceptional accuracy, versatility and ease of use, with bandwidths from 200 MHz to 1.5 GHz, up to 16-bit vertical resolution and 6.25 GS/s real-time sampling rate and achieves the same excellent signal fidelity as previous versions of the 4 Series. In addition, this product not only inherits the highly acclaimed touch-sensitive user interface of its predecessor, but also upgrades the processor system. Customers will be pleasantly surprised to find that the 4 Series B MSO user interface is more than twice as responsive as previous products, and advanced analytics capabilities run significantly faster.

Looking forward to 2024, Tektronix Oscilloscopes will continue to be committed to innovation and excellence. With the continuous development of semiconductor, automotive, high-speed interface technology and other fields, the requirements for electronic test and measurement will become more complex and diverse. Tektronix oscilloscopes are expected to continue to lead the trend in this new era full of challenges and opportunities, providing customers with more advanced and smarter solutions.

At the beginning of this new year, let us look forward to Tektronix oscilloscopes achieving greater brilliance in the field of electronic technology and continuing to make outstanding contributions to scientific and technological progress. We hope that Tektronix oscilloscopes will keep pace with the times and innovate continuously, creating more possibilities for engineers and scientists around the world and achieving a more brilliant tomorrow.

Learn more about Tektronix's latest two mixed-signal oscilloscope families, the 2 Series MSO Mixed Signal Oscilloscope | Tektronix and the 4 Series B MSO Mixed Signal Oscilloscope | Tektronix.


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