Electronic equipment can be divided into two types: analog and digital. Analog equipment works with continuously variable voltages, while digital equipment works with discrete binary numbers that may represent voltage samples. For example, a conventional phonograph turntable is an analog device; a compact disc player is a digital device.
Oscilloscopes also come in analog and digital types. An analog oscilloscope works by directly applying a voltage being measured to an electron beam moving across the oscilloscope screen. The voltage deflects the beam up and down proportionally, tracing the waveform on the screen. This gives an immediate picture of the waveform.
In contrast, a digital oscilloscope samples the waveform and uses an analog-to-digital converter (or ADC) to convert the voltage being measured into digital information. It then uses this digital information to reconstruct the waveform on the screen.
Digital and Analog Oscilloscopes Display Waveforms
For many applications either an analog or digital oscilloscope will do. However, each type does possess some unique characteristics making it more or less suitable for specific tasks.
People often prefer analog oscilloscopes when it is important to display rapidly varying signals in "real time" (or as they occur).
Digital oscilloscopes allow you to capture and view events that may happen only once. They can process the digital waveform data or send the data to a computer for processing. Also, they can store the digital waveform data for later viewing and printing.