Picoscope 2208B MSO Review

There are few tools that are essential for an electronics hobbyist. When I started, I had a soldering iron, a multimeter and some components, and that was about it. That got me quite far because you can do simple debugging even with a multimeter, but once you start to do any communications, you will either work in the dark or get a signal analyzer, oscilloscope, or both. I reached that point about 9 months into my hobby, and eventually decided to get an entry-level PicoScope from Picotech. You can read the whole story from my PicoScope 2204 review from four years ago.

Long story short, I was extremely happy with my Picoscope, and I’ve been using Picotech’s products ever since in various projects. In the past years, I’ve also been collaborating with Picotech, so I’ve had the chance to use also their higher end models, including the frighteningly powerful 4-channel, 200 MHz, 16 bit PicoScope 5444B, which is really great but maybe even too hefty for my use. So when I was offered the chance to try out Picotech’s latest generation of their entry-level 2000 series published just a month ago, I was immediately in.

Without further ado, let’s get reviewing!

PicoScope 2000 series overview

The new PicoScope 2000 series is divided into roughly two groups of equipment: The entry models 2204 and 2205 range in price from 139€ for the 10 MHz 2-channel 2204A to 419€ 2205A and 2405A which are 25 MHz and have MSO (mixed-signal oscilloscope, i.e. it has 16 channel digital part as well) capability and 4-channels, respectively. Don’t let the low bandwith confuse you, even these models have sampling rates ranging from 100 MS/s to 500 MS/s, so you will get quite a lot of measuring power out of them.

Biggest limitation with 2204 and 2205 models is the buffer size, which ranges from 8 kS to 48 kS, so for longer captures than a few waveforms, only option is the continuous capture over USB which worked at a steady rate of 1 MS/s the last time I used it. So you can do unlimited capturing of signals around 100 kHz, but above that it’s the normal oscilloscope triggering business — that’s the way scopes have always worked from their beginnings, so it gets the job done as well.

  2204 2205 2206 2207 2208
Bandwith 10 MHz 20 MHz 50 MHz 70 MHz 100 MHz
Sample rate 100 MS/s 200 MS/s 500 MS/s 1000 MS/s 1000 MS/s
Resolution * 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit
Memory 8 kS 16 kS (48 kS w. MSO/4ch) 32 MS 64 MS 128 MS
Price (2015-22-05) 139 € 209 € 319 € 459 € 629 €
Options MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch

*) Resolution for repeating signals can be increased to 12 bit with multiple samples
Continue reading Picoscope 2208B MSO Review

New Picotech 2208B Unboxing Video!

Picotech launched a new set of very compact but powerful 2000 series oscilloscopes just a few weeks ago, and with my long-term collaboration with them (they really rock :) they were kind enough to send me a unit for reviewing! The review will hopefully come quite soon, but meanwhile, enjoy this amazing unboxing video. And with “amazing”, I mean “I did not completely fail the lighting and achieved 90 % intelligible pronunciation”.

The unit in question is the high-spec 100 MHz 2208B with 16 channel logic analyzer unit built in. I knew that this replacement line to the old light blue 2000 series scopes was small, but I was still amazed by the compactness of this beast. Having had a top end 5000 series Picoscope for a few years, I’m seriously considering the “downgrade”, as I mostly use just one or two channels of the scope, and even those are in many cases digital signals. But I’ll return to this in the review later.

Let me know what you think, either here on in the Youtube comments section!

Raspberry Pi GPIO Benchmark Updated!

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The new Raspberry Pi model 2 is out and the Pi world seems more popular than ever. My 2012 benchmark of different RaspPi GPIO access methods has been getting a lot of hits, so I thought to revisit it, and have now updated all the benchmarks with latest versions of firmware and GPIO libraries. I’ve also upgraded my oscilloscope to PicoScope 5444B, so the scope bandwith limitations I had earlier are now gone. :)

Because the benchmark has been linked from many other sites, I’ve just updated the old post to keep links pointing to right places.

Read the updated Raspberry Pi GPIO Speed Benchmark!

Picoscope Beta for Linux

Picoscope for Linux

Tux logo by Larry Ewing, Simon Budig, Anja Gerwinski

I’ve been a big fan of Picotech’s USB connected PC oscilloscopes ever since I purchased my first PicoScope 2204 almost two years ago. I liked the compact form factor on my desk a lot, and the powerful Picoscope software for Windows – Picotech makes only one version of this software so you get the same functionality with a £159 ($260) 2204 scope as a £5,995 ($9,900) PicoScope 6407 user would – although of course the scope features would be wildly different.

Now Picoscope is a great piece of Windows software and as I generally use Win7 to avoid reboots every time I want to use Photoshop or play a session of Mass Effect, it’s been perfect for me. However, quite a few of electronics enthusiasts are also big advocates of open software movement, and while Picotech has had drivers and SDK for Linux for a while to implement things like my realtime composite decoder, the fact that there is no Linux version of the oscilloscope software has been unfortunate. So when I noticed in the latest Picotech newsletter that there is now a beta of Picoscope for Linux, I knew I had to take it for a spin.

Installing Picoscope on Linux Mint 15

Picotech’s installation process is built on apt packaging system, so a Debian-based Linux distro is the easiest installation target. This includes the wildly popular Ubuntu and Linux Mint distros, which means mainstream Linux users are well catered to. In Picotech forums, the beta thread had at least one user who extracted necessary stuff from the .deb packages and installed the software for Fedora, too.

In Debian-based Mint, the installation went without any hiccups just by following the instructions at Picotech’s Linux Drivers page. Note that sudo apt-get install picoscope also installs all drivers so you don’t need to install your model-specific driver separately. Essentially the installation is just:

sudo echo deb http://labs.picotech.com/debian picoscope main >> /etc/apt/sources.list
wget -O - http://labs.picotech.com/debian/dists/picoscope/Release.gpg.key | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install picoscope

Continue reading Picoscope Beta for Linux

PicoScope 3206B Review

As I mentioned earlier, I got a PicoScope 3206B back in August. After a few months of use I have gathered enough experience with it to feel qualified to write a review on the device.

Those who haven’t yet done so, I suggest you to check out my earlier review of PicoScope 2204 – it covers a bit of my rationale for a USB scope, and the basic features of Picoscope software, which is the same for the whole PicoScope product line.

The 3206B is the top-of-the-line two-channel scope in the 3000 series. The prices have dropped a bit after the introduction of mixed signal version 3206B MSO, so for $1320, you’ll get this device with fairly impressive key feature set:

  • Two channels, and external trigger line
  • 200 MHz analog bandwith
  • 500 MS/s sampling rate
  • A huge 128 MS sample buffer
  • Arbitary waveform function generator (20 MS/s)
  • Two 250 MHz probes, storage bag and software CD

For full details, I suggest you to look up the 3200 series spec sheet from Picotech’s website. Let’s get started!

Unpacking the box

Picotech ships from UK and within EU, no additional taxes or import fees need to be paid. Both my deliveries from them have arrived promptly within two days, well packaged and in impeccable condition.

The scope comes in a cardboard box that also has space for the probes, a storage bag and software CD. Nothing too fancy, but works well for longer term storage, too.
Continue reading PicoScope 3206B Review

Composite video decoding: Theory and practice

After a few busy weeks, I’ve finally arranged enough time to cover the details behind my color composite video decoding project I featured recently. Before you proceed, I suggest you read the previous post, as well as the one before that covers B/W decoding (this post builds on that one), and watch the video, if you haven’t already:

So, feel ready to learn about composite color coding, quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM)? Let’s get started! Before you get going, you can grab the example excel file so you can view the diagrams below in full size, and study the data and formulas yourself.

Combining luminance and color information

If we look at one line of video information (“scanline”), it’s basically a function of two things: luminance (brightness) and chrominance (color) information, combined to a single waveform/signal like this one I showed in my first article.

If we’d like to just have a black-and-white image, encoding it would be easy: Maximum voltage for white, minimum voltage for black, and the values between would simply be shades of grey. However, if we’d like to add color information to this signal, we need to get clever. What the engineers in the 1960’s did to get two things stuffed into one signal was to add color in sine wave modulated form on top of the luminance signal. With proper analog electronics, these two signals could then be separated from the receiving end.


Continue reading Composite video decoding: Theory and practice

Color composite video decoding with Picoscope 3206B

I recently finished an improved version of the NTSC composite video decoder previously featured here at Code and Life. With the bigger buffer of Picoscope 3206B, I was able to capture enough samples per frame to add color. A Youtube demonstration video has just finished uploading and you can view it below.

I already talk a bit about the techniques used in the new version, as well as the new features. For the readers of this blog, I’m planning a more detailed technical explanation, which I’ll put up as soon as I get the infographics for that one done.

Enjoy the show! If you want to take a look at the sources (or better yet, have a 3000 series Picoscope at hand), you can grab the source package. My code is licensed under GPL, see README.txt inside the archive for details.

Update: Technical details now published! Implementation details to be added in another post a bit later.

Picotech sponsorship & Site updates

I have some great news regarding the site. As long time readers probably remember, I’ve done several hacks with my Picoscope 2204 in the past, including a $5 logic analyzer and the latest composite video decoding article. Since I really like their product, I contacted Picotech and asked if they would be interested in working together more closely.

To my delight, the friendly people at Picotech had also noticed the hacks and agreed to sponsor the Code and Life with the extremely capable Picoscope 3206B. In return, I’ve added a “Sponsored by” box to the right which features Picotech and their Picoscope products, and will continue to feature Picoscope-related stuff in the future, and they’ll also have the permission to use those articles on their own. My warmest thanks to Picotech for their donation!

The first concrete result of the new, beefier 200 MHz scope is that I was able to redo many of the measurements in my Raspberry Pi GPIO benchmark. While excellent otherwise, my older Picoscope 2204 with 10 MHz bandwith and 100 MS/s sampling rate was not capable of analyzing the 14-22 MHz waveforms generated by the Pi very accurately, while this was no problem for the 3206B which has 10x the maximum sampling rate: See Benchmarking Raspberry Pi GPIO Speed for details!

Now that I have a scope with more buffer memory, I’m also going to revisit the composite video decoding and see if I can get full resolution, maybe even colors out of my Raspberry Pi composite output using the 3206B. After I get some experience with the new scope, I’ll likely do a review similar to my previous Picoscope 2204 review.

Realtime Composite Video Decoding with PicoScope

After getting my Raspberry Pi and successfully trying out serial console and communication with Arduino, I wanted to see if I could use the Pi as a “display shield” for Arduino and other simpler microcontroller projects. However, this plan had a minor problem: My workstation’s monitor wouldn’t display the HDMI image from Pi, and neither had it had a composite input. Working with the Pi in my living room which has a projector with both HDMI and composite was an option, but spreading all my gear there didn’t seem like such a good plan. But then I got a crazy idea:

The Pi has a composite output, which seems like a standard RCA connector. Presumably it’s sending out a rather straightforward analog signal. Would it be possible to digitize this signal and emulate a composite video display on the PC?

The short answer is: Yes. The medium length answer is, that it either requires an expensive oscilloscope with very large capture buffer (millions of samples), or then something that can stream the data fast enough so there’s enough samples per scanline to go by. Turns out my Picoscope 2204 can do the latter just enough – it isn’t enough for color, but here’s what I was able to achieve (hint: you may want to set video quality to 480p):

What my program does is essentially capture a run of 500 000 samples at 150ns intervals, analyze the data stream to see whether we have a working frame (and because the signal is interlaced, whether we got odd or even pixels), plot it on screen and get a new set of data. It essentially creates a “virtual composite input” for the PC. There’s some jitter and horizontal resolution lost due to capture rate and decoding algorithm limitations, and the picture is monochrome, but if you consider that realtime serial decoding is considered a nice feature in oscilloscopes, this does take things to a whole another level.

Read on to learn how this is achieved, and you’ll learn a thing or two about video signals! I’ve also included full source code (consider it alpha grade) for any readers with similar equipment in their hands.

Continue reading Realtime Composite Video Decoding with PicoScope

World’s Simplest Logic Analyzer for $5

Today’s post documents my recent hack that may just be the world’s simplest logic analyzer. More accurately, it is a circuit consisting of a 74HC126 quad buffer chip and R-2R resistor network (eleven 330 ohm resistors) that acts as a D/A converter, enabling one to analyze four logic lines with a single channel digital oscilloscope and $5 in parts!

With the circuit described below and an entry level USB scope like the PicoScope 2204, bursts of data can be captured at 10 MSps (million samples per second), and continuous capture rates of 2.5 MSps are possible, the length of the capture only limited by your PC’s memory. This is obviously much better than recently covered Bus Pirate’s 1 MSps for 4 ms!

Even higher throughput can be achieved with better scopes, although the A/D conversion requires several consecutive samples at same logic level, which means that a 100 MHz scope with 200 MSps capture rate should generally be able to analyze logic operating at ~40 MHz speeds. At such speeds, a fast buffer chip and D/A converter is naturally needed as well.

Above you can see an example of SD card traffic analyzed using my circuit – the full capture was 10 million samples which enabled me to capture all the traffic generated by my SD tutorial project without any additional triggering. Read on for details of the hack. A lot of effort has been made to keep the material very accessible and informative to electronics beginners, too. In the end of the article, source code for PicoTech 2000 series is included, and it can easily be adapted for any scope that can transfer captured waveforms to PC (in the simplest form by reading waveforms from a CSV file).

How It Works

Basic idea is to connect 4 logic lines to a D/A converter, that will transform the binary 1/0 values (represented by VCC and GND voltage levels, respectively) into a 16-step analog waveform. Because input lines cannot be directly connected to the R-2R resistor network that is used to do the D/A conversion, a 4-line buffer chip is used in between to provide high impedance inputs that do not interfere with the logic being analyzed.

Continue reading World’s Simplest Logic Analyzer for $5