Low-distortion measurements with high-resolution oscilloscopes

High-resolution fault-finding and testing with the PicoScope 4262

Written for Pico Technology by industry expert Peter Darby

Basic fault-finding

The PicoScope 4262 is a high-precision oscilloscope that is also suitable for general-purpose fault-finding. With two input channels, it can display signals in both time domain and frequency domain views, or even both at the same time. Spectrum views provide a number of automatic measurements including distortion and noise.

PicoScope 4262 Hi Res fault

Figure 1: Measuring dynamic range by feeding signal from built-in generator into oscilloscope

Dynamic range

The analog to digital converters in most digital oscilloscopes have 8-bit resolution, which produces 256 quantization levels. This is equivalent to an ideal dynamic range of 48 dB. The PicoScope 4262 has a 16-bit analog to digital converter which produces 65,536 quantization levels, increasing the dynamic range to 96 dB.

96 dB is the best theoretical figure, but in practice the acquisition system will have some noise that will reduce the actual usable dynamic range.

The dynamic range of the generator and acquisition system was measured with the generator output directly connected to the channel A input, as in Figure 1.

Figure 2 shows the spectrum view in PicoScope. This was obtained by capturing the sine wave signal in the time domain and then clicking the Spectrum button.

Spectrum view in PicoScope

To measure the dynamic range we aligned the two channel A rulers (controlled by the blue squares next to the y-axis) with the signal peak and the noise floor. The ruler legend then showed the dynamic range, given by the delta between the two rulers, to be –98 dB.

Monitoring waveform distortion

This test measures distortion in a stereo amplifier. It shows how PicoScope’s automatic distortion measurement can detect harmonics even when the time-domain waveform looks clean. The PicoScope 4262 has more than enough dynamic range to capture these signals without adding significant noise or distortion of its own.

 
4262 set up for distortion measurement

Figure 3: Setup for distortion measurement

Time domain and spectrum views on PicoScope

Figure 4: Four views, channels A and B Channel B has –61 dB THD. In the time-domain view we cannot see distortion.

Time domain and spectrum views on PicoScope

Figure 5: Four views, channels A and B With increased power output level, we can start to see some distortion harmonics in the channel A spectrum display.

Figures 4 and 5 show the PicoScope screen divided into four views: a time-domain and a spectrum view for each of the two channels. Each view is easily created by right-clicking on the default view and selecting Add View.

The channel B spectrum has THD of –28 dB at this level. We can start to see the distortion in the time-domain display (lower left panel).

Glitch detection

PicoScope’s Persistence Display mode is useful for capturing unwanted clicks or glitches in an audio signal. In a normal oscilloscope display these signals appear on the screen for only a fraction of a second, so there is little chance of performing accurate measurements on them. Persistence mode causes old waveforms to remain in the background while newer waveforms are drawn on top.

Figure 6

Figure 6: Setup for glitch detection

  1. Click the Persistence Mode button on the PicoScope toolbar.
  2. Either leave the settings at their defaults or adjust them by clicking the Persistence Options button.

The main choice to be made in Persistence Options is between Color Persistence and Analog Intensity modes.

Color Persistence mode, as shown in Figure 7, can display new updates in brighter colors than old waveforms, making glitches stand out.

Analog Intensity mode has a similar effect but using shades of a single color. This is more like the display of an analog persistence scope.

Figure 7

Figure 7: Color Persistence mode, showing a glitch in a brighter color

Conclusion

The high resolution of the PicoScope 4262 makes it ideal for low-noise, low-distortion measurements, and its built-in signal generator removes the need for an additional signal source. With its 5 MHz bandwidth, it can easily analyze audio, ultrasonic and vibration signals, characterize noise in switched mode power supplies, measure distortion and perform a wide range of precision measurement tasks.

Testimonials

  • I have been using my 4224 PicoScope for years. I travel abroad so this has been ideal due to its physical size. Storage of waveforms on my Laptop is very easy allowing me to quickly email waveforms to my Colleagues.

    Andrew
  • Not many USB scopes works on Win & Mac & Linux too, so that proves me that guys from Pico really cares about us, customers. This made my decision much easier when I was looking to buy an USB scope.

    Raul Trifan
  • We have been using Picoscope 6404D for quite some time, and are amazed by its accuracy and powerful emulations while working with numerous signal evaluations.

    J Mohanty
  • PicoLog TC-08: This is a very nice unit that works consistently and reliably.

    Jeff Hulett
  • It is a great scope. I had a weird problem - it did not work on one of my PC’s. Customer service gave me first class service. If I could give 6 stars for customer service - I would do so.

    Niels Larsen
  • Perfect Partner for Development of Encoder controlled Stepper Motor Actuators. Since the included software is really stable, this type of device is a great tool for great tasks!

    Helmut Schoettner
  • A superb piece of equipment worth its weight in gold

    Nigel Clinch
  • So simple to use & beats any other I have ever used hands down.

    John D Samsing
  • Great functionality in a compact size. I really like moving the mouse pointer to a position and having the Time and Voltage display the values at that point. Calibration equipment is a breeze with that feature.

    Don Horein

PC oscilloscope and data logger products

Tel: +1 800 591 2796 (Toll Free)