Things have come a long way since Karl Ferdinand Braun developed the first cathode ray tube oscilloscope. The move from analog to digital oscilloscopes in the 1980s kicked off the most significant developments. These test and measurement machines continue to advance with no sign of slowing down.
Expanding markets for oscilloscopes and technological innovations have brought the oscilloscope market to about $1.4 billion, which is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.2% from 2023-2028, reaching over $2 billion by 2028.
But what does the oscilloscope of the future look like?
Some early digital oscilloscopes were three feet deep and weighed over 130 pounds. Today, some oscilloscopes weigh less than one pound. Handheld models are routinely carried in the field at electrical installation sites, on factory floors, and in medical facilities.
The trend towards compact design will continue. Overall size and weight will decrease. Larger touchscreen interfaces will dominate, allowing more versatile testing capabilities. Power-efficient hardware will combine with improvements in battery chemistry will allow mobile scopes to run longer on lighter batteries. The line between benchtop and mobile oscilloscopes will fade. If the Tektronix 2 Series MSO is any indication, oscilloscopes will begin to resemble tablet computers—and will hopefully be just as easy for new users to master.
Traditionally, an engineer’s test bench had at least a half-dozen test instruments beyond the oscilloscope. Modern scopes consolidate these instruments into one multi-functional oscilloscope. For example, a 2020 Keysight white paper introduces the oscilloscope of the future as an 8-in-1 model with the following equipment:
Having so many instruments in one convenient box opens more workspace—and more possibilities—on the test bench.
The key factors that contribute to oscilloscope performance are greater bandwidth, higher waveform capture and sample rates, and increased memory depth. These capabilities will continue improving to allow for more accurate, more reliable measurements.
Recent improvements have come in the form of better vertical resolution. The higher the vertical resolution of your scope, the fewer signal details get lost in the noise. Currently, 12-bit Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADCs) are replacing the 8-bit ADCs of their predecessors, which means sixteen times better vertical resolution.
Because oscilloscopes can trade some bandwidth for even higher resolution, instruments like the Tektronix 6 Series B mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO) offers high resolution mode with 16-bit vertical resolution. The Rohde & Schwarz MXO 4 Series can achieve 18-bit vertical resolution.
It’s a safe bet that future oscilloscopes will offer even more precision, higher bandwidth and more channels. As the analyzers, meters, and instruments that are integrated into our scopes also improve, the possibilities will grow even faster.
One of the challenges when purchasing an oscilloscope is knowing how your needs will evolve. Tomorrow’s bandwidth requirements may be significantly greater than todays. In the future, you may need to debug and validate serial buses that do not even exist today.
Upgrading once meant replacing your oscilloscope or shipping it away for hardware and software upgrades. Today, most oscilloscopes can add new measurement capabilities and unlock higher specifications with software keycodes. While this sometimes requires the keycode to be purchased, some oscilloscope manufacturers are already leaving full capabilities unlocked from day one. Whatever the dominant business model of the future, oscilloscopes can be expected to offer even more options for convenient upgrades long after the original purchase.
The oscilloscopes of the future will definitely have one thing in common with their predecessors: Without probes, they will be purely decorative.
We expect tomorrow’s probes to offer wider input ranges, more bandwidth, and less sensitivity to noise. Engineers should be able to cover more applications with any individual probe. However, growth in areas such as embedded designs and high voltage systems—plus innovations we cannot yet predict—will likely mean the test bench of the future still needs a variety of probes at the ready.
When? The Future. Where? TestEquity.
While the exact future of oscilloscopes is impossible to predict, two things seem certain:
First: As manufacturers continue to enhance capabilities and innovators find more ways to use them.
Second: TestEquity will make sure innovators can get their hands on a wide range of oscilloscopes and any other electronics test and measurement solutions.
The future of oscilloscopes is bright.