You Don’t Need That Bulky CRT Oscilloscope Anymore

While it might be nice to use a $4,000 oscilloscope in a lab at a university or well-funded corporate environment, a good portion of us won’t have access to that kind of equipment in our own home shops. There are a few ways of getting a working oscilloscope without breaking the bank, though. One option is to find old CRT-based unit for maybe $50 on craigslist which might still have 60% of its original 1970s-era equipment still operational. A more reliable, and similarly-priced, way of getting an oscilloscope is to just convert a device you already have.

The EspoTek Labrador is an open-source way of converting a Raspberry Pi, Android device, or even a regular run-of-the-mill computer into a working oscilloscope. It’s a small USB device with about a two square inch PCB footprint that includes some other features as well like a signal generator and logic analyzer. It’s based on an ATxmega which is your standard Arduino-style AVR microcontroller but geared for low power usage. It looks as though it is pretty simple to use as well, and the only requirements are that you can install the software needed for the device on whatever computing platform you decide to use.

While the Labrador is available for sale at their website, it is definitely a bonus when companies offer products like this but also release the hardware and software as open source. That’s certainly a good way to get our attention, at least. You can build your own if you’d like, but if you’d rather save the time you have pre-built options. And it doesn’t hurt that most of the reviews of this product seem to be very favorable (although we haven’t tried one out ourselves). If you’d prefer an option without a company backing it, though, we have you covered there too.

GlScopeClient: A Permissively-Licensed Remote Oscilloscope Utility

One of the most convenient things about modern digital oscilloscopes is that you can access the recorded data on a computer for later analysis, advanced protocol debugging, or simply the convenience of remote capture. The problem is that the software isn’t always ideal. Vendor-supplied utilities are typically closed-source and they try to nickel-and-dime you for every a-la-carte protocol and/or feature. The open-source options come with their own issues, from performance-limiting designs, to incomplete features, to license constraints. Faced with these issues, [Andrew Zonenberg] decided to take matters into his own hands and create glscopeclient, a permissively-licensed open-source remote oscilloscope utility.

The eventual goal is to allow you to do remotely anything you would normally do using the scope’s front panel, plus capture and analyze data on the computer side. The code uses a modular architecture that allows for various backends to talk to different scopes. At the moment, the only backend fully implemented is for LeCroy scopes, although this is enough to demonstrate the power of the idea. The obvious “gl” in the name gives away the secret — the code uses OpenGL for rendering, which allows for some very fancy graphics at high frame rates.

Behind the slick look, however, are some serious debugging tools. Protocol analyzers include USB, UART, JTAG, eye pattern analysis, plus FFT-based spectra with waterfall displays. The code is in GitHub, and most of the announcements and discussion seem to happen on [Andrew]’s twitter account, which you can follow @azonenberg. It’s a work-in-progress, but a serious one, and something we’re going to keep our eyes on.

You can check out a video of the program after the break.

Now, if you want to literally talk to your oscilloscope, we covered that, too.

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Repairing And Upgrading A HP 16533A Scope Card

In the world of oscilloscopes, as in the rest of the test equipment world, there’s always some trickery afoot. Companies will often offer different models to the market at different price points, in an effort to gain the widest possible customer base while also making the most profit. Cheaper, less capable models are often largely identical to more expensive hardware, save for some software or a couple jumpers that disable functionality. [Alexandre] found just this when working to repair his HP 16533A scope card.

Work began when [Alexandre] received his HP 16533A in the mail after a long wait, only to find the trigger functionality was inoperable. This is crucial on a digital scope, so this simply wouldn’t do. After some research online, a post was found discussing which signals to probe to troubleshoot the issue. It noted that corrosion is a common problem on these units, and that occasionally, a certain resistor goes open circuit and causes problems. Initial measurement showed there was still resistance there, but reading closer, [Alexandre] noted this fateful line:

You might not be able to measure it accurately in circuit. 

Removing the 100K resistor from the board, the part was indeed open circuit. After replacement with a new component, the trigger circuit was again fully operational. With the scope still open, it was then a simple job to execute a further resistor swap which gives the 16533A the functionality and range of the higher-spec 16534A model.

It’s very common for oscilloscopes and other test hardware to be configured this way from the factory. Rigol scopes are particularly popular with hackers for this very reason.

[Thanks to jafinch78 for the tip!]

Power Measurement Oscilloscope Style

If you want to measure voltage you reach for a voltmeter. Current? An ammeter. Resistance? An ohmmeter. But what about measuring AC power? A watt meter? Usually. But if you know what to do, you could also reach for your oscilloscope. If you don’t know what to do, [Jim Pytel] has the video answers for you. Truth is, an oscilloscope can measure almost anything if you know how. [Jim] shows how to measure the voltage and current in a circuit and then it is simply a matter of doing a little math, something modern scopes can do very easily.

We like that [Jim] shows a circuit and how the math works before he verifies the math with the scope. Of course, theory doesn’t always match practice. The method uses a small current-sensing resistor that throws readings off a bit. The scope and signal generator are not perfect, either. However, the results match up pretty nicely with the computed results.

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Grab An Image From Your O-scope The Easy Way

The Rigol DS1054Zed is the oscilloscope you want. If you don’t have an oscilloscope, this is the scope that has the power and features you need, it’s cheap, and the people who do hardware hacks already have one. That means there’s a wealth of hardware hacks for this oscilloscope. One small problem with the ‘Zed is the fact that capturing an image from the screen is overly complicated, and the official documentation requires dedicated software and a lot of rigolmarole. Now there’s a simple python script that grabs a screen cap from a Rigol scope.

The usage of this python script is as simple as plugging the DS1054Z into your USB port and running the script. A PNG of whatever is on the screen then appears on your drive. Testing has been done on OS X, and it probably works on Linux and Windows. It’s a simple tool that does one job, glory and hallelujah, people are still designing tools this way.

This work was inspired by the efforts of [cibomahto], who spent some time controlling the Rigol with Linux and Python. This work will plot whatever is being captured by the scope in a window, in Linux, but sometimes you just need a screencap of whatever is on the scope; that’s why there were weird Polaroid adapters for HP scopes in the day.

Yes, it’s a simple tool that does one job, but if you need that tool, you really need that tool. [rdpoor] is looking for a few people to test it out, and of course pull requests are accepted.

Talk To Your ‘Scope, And It Will Obey

An oscilloscope is a device that many of us use, and which we often have to use while our hands are occupied with test probes or other tools. [James Wilson] has solved the problem of how to control his ‘scope no-handed, by connecting it to a Raspberry Pi 3 running the voice assistant. This is an interesting piece of software that runs natively upon the device in contrast to the cloud service provided by the likes of Alexa or Google Assistant.

The ‘scope in question is a Keysight 1000-X that can be seen in the video below the break, but looking at the Python code we could imagine the same technique being brought to other instruments such as the Rigol 1054z we looked at controlling via USB a year or two ago. The use of the software provides a pointer to how voice-controlled projects in our community might evolve beyond the cloud services, interestingly though they do not make a big thing of it their software appears to be open-source.

Oscilloscopes do not have to be remotely controlled by voice alone. It seems to be a common desire to take measurements no-handed — one project we’ve featured in the past did the job with a foot switch.

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A Science Lab In Your Pocket?

Since even the cheapest phone or computer now has plenty of horsepower, there’s been a move to create instruments that can do everything, using a reasonably simple front end and crunching data back on the host device. This is one of those tasks that seems easy, but doing it well turns out to be a lot of effort. One we recently noticed was Pocket Science Lab — a board that connects to your PC or Android phone and provides an oscilloscope, a logic analyzer, a wave generator, a power supply, a multimeter, and a few odd items such as an accelerometer, barometer, compass, and lux meter. The cost is about $65, so it isn’t a big investment. But what can it do? Read on, or you can watch the video below from Geekcamp Singapore.

The datasheet shows a reasonable device, although nothing amazing. The oscilloscope has 4 channels but only does 2 MSPS, so assuming the front end can handle it, you might visualize 1 MHz sine waves. There’s also a 12-bit voltmeter, three 12-bit power supplies with different ranges, a 4 MHz 4 channel logic analyzer, two sine or triangle wave generators, 4 PWM outputs, and the ability to measure capacitance. Finally, there’s a frequency counter that’s good to 16 MHz.

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