Labscopes can prove daunting to the new user, especially due to the many forms and functions it comes with. But, as Teddy Roosevelt has said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. If you have a new labscope, or are thinking of purchasing one, you have to “do what you can” to understand what kind of labscope you need and how to use it in its entirety. The article below will help you get a better grasp of what labscopes do and what kinds are available.
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What Is a Labscope?
A labscope is essentially a Digital Volt-Ohm Meter (DVOM) or a multimeter, with the main difference being that it measures voltage over time. With a multimeter, only the current voltage is displayed, but with a labscope, you can clearly see when the voltage peaks or drops across time.
To see these peaks and drops, the labscope has a graph that updates around 200-300 times per second, showing you the changes and oscillations in voltage in real time.
The numbers displayed on the labscope, on the other hand, are updated 2-4 times per second. These numbers represent the average voltage (instead of the current voltage), as it takes into account a particular span of time.
Both the graph and the numbers provide a more detailed and visual picture of what’s going on in a circuit, and, in effect, this combination can better help you determine if there are issues that need to be addressed.
SETUP: For sampling points only. The scope takes sample points, stores them, then connects them together in a graph.
What All Scopes Have In Common: They plot voltage over time, no matter what type it is.
What Are the Different Types of Labscopes?
Labscopes come in many different shapes and sizes, with many different ways of functioning. Although these labscopes may vary, remember that all of them share one similarity: they should all plot voltage over time.
Main differences among labscopes can be broken down into two categories: the way they measure and manipulate data, and the hardware they use.
Analog vs Digital Labscopes
Labscopes can either measure, manipulate, and display data analog or digitally.
Analog labscopes show a continuous graph that displays live voltage changes. These scopes can’t store patterns, which means you can’t “replay” certain frames of time. This also means that you have to constantly watch the display screen, especially if you need to see voltage changes over longer spans of time.
Analog labscopes test ignition best, and are a relatively low cost solution for voltage testing.
However, analog scopes are difficult to set up, as they need long extension cords in the case of road tests, which might not be practical for you if those are the kinds of tests you will find yourself doing often.
Digital labscopes, on the other hand, do not continuously display the voltage changes. Instead, digital scopes collate data points as samples. The sampled points on the graph then form a pattern of dots that can be connected to form a continuous-looking curve. The accuracy and smoothness of the final graph depends on the labscope’s set sample rate (which determines how many samples are taken per second).
- Digital labscopes also have digital menus for tweaking settings, which makes for a quick and easy setup.
- Digital scopes, compared to analog labscopes, are more portable as most of them are battery-powered.
- Finally, digital labscopes can record and store voltage patterns and even make databases of patterns which you can upload and share with other people online.
Handheld vs PC-based
Apart from differentiating labscopes via the way they handle data, labscopes can also be classified according to the hardware they use.
Handheld labscopes are labscopes that are portable and that require no external device to use. Although some of these handheld types can be connected to scan tools or other tools, they do not require these connections in order to function.
Small handheld labscopes are highly recommended for first time users; if you can make the small ones work, you can make the rest of them do their job.
Handheld labscopes are also relatively cheap, and usually have simple interfaces for quick and easy use.
PC-based labscopes, on the other hand, are slightly bigger and bulkier than the handheld ones. These labscopes require a connection between a computer or a laptop and the component being tested. These types of labscopes usually come with high-end software and more tools to help detect and manipulate various kinds of data.
Labscopes with an Integrated Scan Tool
There are also labscopes that come integrated with a scan tool. Take note, however, that you can’t use both tools at the same time.
Tips To Start Using Labscopes
Once you have a labscope at your disposal, it will get easier for you to get the hang of them– as long as you practice using them every so often. Training gets you started, after all. And practice makes you better.
Tip 1: Use a demo or sensor simulator first. Purchase a waveform demo board and try your labscope with the demo until you’re confident that you can use it with a vehicle. These simulators can help you differentiate patterns and capture glitches.
Tip 2: When moving on to vehicles, you should practice on good and “healthy” cars first before proceeding to the bad and problematic ones. This way, you will know first hand what “good” patterns look like, and what “bad” patterns are based on comparison.
Labscopes For The New UserView Course
This course, “Labscope for the New User,” describes what labscopes are, what they should and should not be used for, and describes the standard features found on all scopes. Instructor Jim Wilson will also talk about the different types of labscopes, procedures to set them up correctly, and follow the necessary activities to self-educate on their use. Jim will also cover the five primary signal types, how to set the labscope’s time, voltage and trigger, pattern of the signal, and the five critical dimensions of amplitude.