OScope Advert From 1987 Rocks It

We can’t remember ever seeing a late-night TV ad for oscilloscopes before but, for some reason, Tektronix did produce a video ad in 1987. You can see it below and enjoy the glorious music and video production standards of the 1980s.

We assume this was made to show at some trade show or the like. Even if there was a Home Shopping Network in 1987, we doubt many of these would have been sold despite the assertion they were “low cost” — clearly a relative term in this case.

You’ve got to wonder if the narrator understood what he was saying or if he was just reading from a script. Pretty impressive either way. We loved these old scopes, although we also like having very capable scopes that don’t strain our backs to lift.

On the bright side, these scopes today are pretty affordable on the used market if you can find one that doesn’t need a repair with an exotic part. For example, we found several 2221s or 2221As for under $200 without looking hard. The shipping, of course, could potentially almost double the price.

While you can get a modern scope for $200, it probably isn’t the same quality as a Tektronix. Then again, the new scope won’t have CRTs and exotic Tektronix parts to wear out, either. Picking a scope is a pretty personal affair, though, so one person’s great scope might be another person’s piece of junk.

31 thoughts on “OScope Advert From 1987 Rocks It

  1. I wished I had a model so modern, I kid you not!
    Unfortunately, I can’t afford it. It’s beyond my possibilities.
    My father still has an Hameg 312 series model on his desk, while I do have a small and humble Trio oscillograph from the 1970s (CO 1303D) that I use whenever I need a graphical representation of electric signals.
    I’ve never owned a digital model yet, either. A storage oscillosgraph with a CRT would be wonderful.

  2. I do love my Tek 2235. Useable bandwidth, lightweight and not toooo big, real knobs and dials and no waiting for it to boot up.
    I have a 2467 and a 2467B as well but I tend not to fire them up too much as the CRT in those is delicate, and the later model digital scopes I have are more functional for most things.

    I usually end up using my TDS220 for daily use, it’s compact, has the optional Maths Module, and 100MHz resolution so it does most of what I need when I just want to see a squiggly line.
    I have 3 more in pieces with the common burnt polarizer issue on the LCD. I’m still trying to find a supplier of FSTN polarizer film to get them all working nice again so I can pass them on.

    I usually turn to my 1GHz TDS784D when I need a digital scope with some real bandwidth though. I have a TDS794D too that I got cheap and replaced some faulty RAM to get it working 100%, the 2GHz bandwidth is nice, but the inputs are a bit restrictive sometimes in real use.

    I have somehow ended up with around 10 of the TDS500/600/700 series scopes, I really should sell a bunch and buy a TDS7000 series for some slightly newer fun.

    I also recently got my hands on a nice THS720P, a fully isolated battery powered scope. Perfect for poking switchmode power supplies and working on cars and machines awqy from convenient power.

    I really do seem to have a lot of scopes, thinking about it now. It’s weird, getting your first few scopes seems to be the hard part, but leave them alone in a dark cupboard and I swear they start breeding…..

    1. The TDS 5/6 series are pretty good scopes for the average hobbyist. I bought a 540A not working and a 640A with missing buttons and a crack in the glass. I fixed the 540A (common power supply issue caused by one of the HV supply caps going high ESR and knocking out a transistor and TVS diode) and sold it for enough to pay for both scopes and then found the missing buttons for cheap.

      I also have a THS 720A for isolated measurements, and it has the benefit of having virtually identical menus and controls to the TDS.

      1. I know alllllll about that high ESR capacitor…. C17, a 47uF 80V capacitor. I’ve repaired a couple power supplies and now replace that capacitor on sight with a high quality Low-ESR cap with high ripple current rating as a matter of course..

        Also, you can turn your THS720A into a 720P with nothing more than changing a few resistors.
        Remove R202, R203, R204
        Install R207, R213 (0 ohm links)

        1. I always find it funny that, like all electronics, scopes these days have a label that says “no user serviceable parts inside”

          Seems like, almost by definition, the kind of individual with an oscilloscope is the very user most likely able to service it.

          1. Interesting; my old Tek 530 (5″ all-tube monsters) Scopes came with service and alignment instructions in the manuals; they even included a roll of the special silver-bearing solder necessary to solder on the ceramic terminal strips. I still have a 530 mainframe and 2 ch plug-in, but the phosphor coating on the CRT has long since flaked away, and the CRT is made of Unobtainium. Too bad; I used to heat my shop with the thing.

      1. FSTN film is a polarizer film with an extra layer that does some optical black magic to make the display colours high contrast black and white instead of washed out blue and yellow.

        It’s not too hard to find in Gameboy sized pieces on ebay, but finding larger pieces for reasonable prices is a bit more difficult….

  3. Some advise for buying a budget scope:

    Oscilloscopes have improved so much over the last 20 or so years that I would not give much more then EUR100 for such an old Tektronix. Sure, they are still capable, but just the size, weight and desk space would be a nuisance for me. The DSO’s also have so many more functions that I have just no interest at all in an analog scope (even if it has some memory function).

    The fnisi that hackaday links to is garbage. Please don’t ever buy a fnirsi. They don’t even get a captital F*** from me. Some beginners may contradict this advise, the problem with fnirsi is that it is just good enough to give some plausible results on screen, but you can’t rely on seeing what you see to have anything to do with reality. If you don’t realize that, then you may believe what you see on a fnisi and even find it “quite good”, but it’s just too misleading. Another sad thing about the fnirsi is that only beginners waste money on them, and they often don’t have the experience to even make a good review of them, (and therefore recognize the serious flaws they have).

    Among the asian brands, both Rigol and Siglent are regarded as “quite good”, but prices start just over EUR300 for a two channel scope. Micsig may be quite good too, but you don’t see many (in depth) reviews of them. If you really want to go lower cost as Rigol or Siglent, then you can consider bands like GW Instek, Owon or Uni-T, but the price difference with Siglent is so small that I wonder it’s worth bothering with those brands, unless they have a specific feature that is very important to you. A problem with those latter brands is that they quite often have some weird and quirky tings in their in the way they operate.

    I also would not skimp on buying an oscilloscope. If you buy a “cheap” one, there is a big chance you want a better scope in a few years time. If you save up and invest a bit more in an oscilloscope, you very likely have a scope that will probably be your companion for 20 years or so.

    Apart from youtube reviews, there is a lot of info for buying scopes on the eevblog forum.

    If you really can’t afford more then EUR200 then some of the handhelds such as the Owon HDS272 may be worth considering. They have a small and lower resolution screen, and a more cumbersome interface with push buttons, but the battery power allows for floating measurements. The small form factor makes it easy to stow or take it with you and if you want to buy a bigger / better scope later, it will still be usable as an “extra”.

    1. I can highly recommend the Siglent SDS 1104 X-E scope. It’s listed as a 100 MHz scope, but has the same hardware as their 200 MHz scope and the EEVBlog forums has instructions on how to get around the software block that limits it to the 100 MHZ. For $500 USD, it is worth the price. Actually liked it so much I went and bought their 2 channel function generator, 3 channel power supply, and their 6.5 digit multimeter to round out my personal bench.

      1. I have the two channel version. It’s… good, but I feel these scopes are getting a little too complicated to use, or the interface isn’t quite up to the show. Takes a long time to boot up, and can be laggy when you have measurements on, especially anything more complicated like FFT plots. I also find it can “crash” after being left on for some days.

        It’s again a case of creeping featuritis where 80% of the features you’ll probably never use, so a cheaper and simpler scope would be better for most tasks.

    2. Good advice. I would add beg borrow or ,,, then other one… until you can afford decent equipment. Onto that, join a local ham radio group and I guarantee you will have free access to anything you could ever want to borrow plus the people that know how to use it.
      For what it’s worth I waited forever before getting a scope and finally bought a second hand Rigol for $100 and it’s great for what I need it for. Plus money left to get a AWG, nanoSA etc. At a ham swap there’s nothing but perfectly good boat-anchor older CRT scopes available too but I honestly don’t see the appeal on a purely practical basis. Nostalgia etc for sure though and if I had nothing else I’d gladly borrow one if needed. But the digital one weighs nothing and all my scopes can fit in a shoe box.

    3. Personally, I think that a CRT is a must. A plastic screen just doesn’t feel real. It’s just a pixel-screen, rather than a true vector-based CRT as found in a real oscillograph.
      An analog-digital hybrid model with CRT would be awesome, really, thus. Which is real-time capable and doesn’t require an analog-digital converter to draw an oscillogramme on the CRT.

  4. >>On the bright side, these scopes today
    >are pretty affordable on the used market
    >>if you can find one that doesn’t need
    >>a repair with an exotic part.

    You’ll pry my generic parts scopes from my cold dead hands.

  5. I still have a Tek 560 mainframe with a 1L5 audio spectrum analyzer plugin which still works. I’m guessing it’s maybe 50+ years old. Linear freq display instead of semi-log. Designed and built an audio tracking generator which uses the local oscillator (RF carrier) from the spectrum analyzer to generate audio. Very thermally sensitive/fiddly but once zeroed and calibrated it is good for an hour or two. Has a purple trace screen which persists an image of the sweep for about 5-10 seconds where it can be photographed before the trace on the phosphors fades.
    Tek used to make Polaroid scope cameras just for this purpose, but I never had one.
    I bought it used from a rental company for IIRC about $10k equivalent present value dollars. It was a good value at the time. Sits on a roll around scope cart. Can’t bring myself to throw it away and it has value/freight cost ratio below eBay usefulness.
    It’s pleasant and easy to forget what everyone went through to get things done before digital.
    Tek was always the gold standard.

  6. I worked for Tek a few years before then. It was an interesting place to be. They had the “Tek Store” that was open during lunch hour. There was usually a line-up of hams and electronics enthusiasts there when the door opened.

    My first Tek was a 541, as a teen-ager! TEN MEGACYCLES! INCREDIBLE! I started my own stereo service business right out of high school. I used to bring in a turkey sandwich for lunch, and set it on top of the 541. By lunchtime, I had a hot sandwich!

    I went on to have a number of 7000-series mainframes (acquired on the cheap from the Tek Store), but ended up giving them all away.

    I’m currently restoring a TDS-series with a display upgrade. You can get 500MHz quite reasonably.

  7. My benchtop scope is a 336 from around 1987. It’s rather cute in an old-school way, with on-screen raster text legends and storage.
    It’s now old enough to be safe as an interesting artefact, rather than being a candidate for replacement.
    I do have a DSO Quad too, which is significantly more portable than the “Portable” Tek. Though the 336 is actually relatively tiny for a CRT scope.

  8. the discussion here — especially “graphical representation of electric signals” — made me realize i don’t even want an oscilloscope. the fundamental purpose of an oscilloscope is to visualize the output of an oscillator. but i almost never work with oscillators. instead, i want to capture a single discrete moment in time. it’s DSO or bust for me.

    the fact that the instrument is derived from an oscilloscope is just a historical fluke. it wasn’t desirable to me until it stopped being a glorified horizontal-retrace oscillator. i love my cheap riglent!

    1. ” the fundamental purpose of an oscilloscope is to visualize the output of an oscillator.”

      Then you have still a lot to learn, my son.
      The CRT oscillograph is one of the most versatile instruments ever invented and it’s elegant due to its simplicity.
      You can measure so much more than just an oscillator with it.

      You can measure a capacitor with it, use it as a black/white video monitor, a vector screen, draw Lissajous figures, measure phase differences (used by RTTY monitors for Mark/Space), draw frequency response of an amplifier, check the linearity of a diode/rectifier, draw waveforms/modulation types, etc.

      Seriously, young boy, I highly recommend you reading a few books about the operation of an CRT oscilloscope/oscillograph.

      And I mean real, physical books that were once published (or a PDFs of them). Not some free tutorials on the web. I mean books from the analogue era in which scopes had no on-screen display yet. Reading an actual operation manual of a vintage scope, is a start, too.

      Because, only these books meant for pure scopes will tell you how to learn to properly interpret the graphical representation of an oscillogramme.

      Later manuals/books may commit that educational part and just tell you to read the numbers written on a digiscope’s monitor. That’s no achievement.

      Best wishes,

  9. So what do we do with the old O’scopes were have now that we’ve gone digital? I mean, I have a 1965 OS-106C/USM-117 which I started with 30+ years ago and also a Leader LBO-514A. Both work but they are boat anchor heavy relatively slow by todays standards. The Leader is 15MHz and the USM-117 is probably rated for KHz range.

    If I have to send them to recycle, I will probably take the front panel of the OS-106C/USM-117 off, knobs and all and put some form of LCD and ESP32 behind the display panel and make it a clock or something.

    1. “Both work but they are boat anchor heavy relatively slow by todays standards”

      My old wooden table in the hobby room is large and heavy, too.
      Should I replace it by some small, lightweight plastic folding table meant for camping ?
      Because that’s about how vintage CRT scopes and LCD “scopes” do relate to each others, I think. 🙂

  10. I’ve had a Tek 2213A scope here for about as long as I’ve lived in Queens NY. Further I’ve actually owned it since about the time of that ad. It was abandoned by its owner.

  11. While it seems out of place with an ad for very specific technology, a company like TEK or HP might be bidding for a multimillion dollar government contract.
    This is a low cost way to get your brand and products into everyone’s mind.
    Run it for a month before the tender is signed off – send a million, then reap the reward if you get the deal.

    The broadcast equipment industry worked in a similar way, with free long term loans etc, but you can’t do that with an open tender – it’s not perceived well ,

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