Making High Resolution Counter and Voltage Measurements with your Oscilloscope

Blog Post created by BoonCampbell Employee on Apr 19, 2017

Lab benches are many times cluttered with multiple pieces of test equipment. Keysight’s InfiniiVision Oscilloscopes are equipped with a built in digital voltmeter, frequency counter, and totalizer giving the oscilloscope user additional measurement options that can reduce the amount of test equipment needed. In addition, when you only measure the frequency of a signal, you rarely get the whole story. A repetitive signal can have spurs, intermittent spikes, and noise that you need to see during design and or debug. The oscilloscope counter will show you all of these attributes in addition to the frequency in one screen shot giving you the “big” picture. Keysight InfiniiVision oscilloscopes include both a 3-digit voltmeter (DVM) and a 5-10-digit integrated counter depending upon the oscilloscope model number (Figure 1 below).


 Digital Voltmeter

Figure 1 – Functionality, options and specifications across the Keysight InfiniiVision family of Oscilloscopes


Digital Volt Meter

The DVM and integrated counter operate through the same probes as the oscilloscope channels. However, these measurements are decoupled from the oscilloscope triggering system measuring 100 points per second. This flexibility allows engineers to make DVM and triggered oscilloscope measurements with the same connection. DVM results are presented with an always-on seven-segment display keeping these quick characterization measurements at the engineers' fingertips. You get the added flexibility of measuring four types of DVM measurements depending upon your application: Peak-Peak, AC rms, DC, and DC rms. As a user you should also note that the oscilloscope DVM is designed for quick rough measurements as needed in design or debug and not meant to replace exact measurements you would get from a calibrated external DVM.


Standard 5-digit counter resolution

The traditional oscilloscope counter measurements offer only five or six digits of resolution, which may not be enough for the most critical frequency measurements being made. With a 10-digit counter you can see your measurements with the precision you would normally expect, only from a standalone counter. The Keysight integrated counter’s ability to measure frequencies up to a wide bandwidth of 3.2 GHz allows it to be used in many high-frequency applications. This integrated hardware counter allows users to make much more accurate frequency measurements on signals. Four digits is one part in ten thousand, or ~0.01% of the displayed number. In addition, relative to an industry standard oscilloscope frequency measurement, the Keysight counter measurement is designed to be very easy to use. It uses the trigger level of the oscilloscope as the trigger level for the counter independent of the cycles shown on the screen.


Up to 8 to 10-digit resolution with external time base

If an external 10MHz reference is used, the counter is as accurate as the externally fed 10MHz signal, and the measurement resolution is increased. The 10MHz REF BNC connector on the rear panel is provided so you can supply a more accurate clock signal to the oscilloscope. To drive oscilloscope’s time base from external clock reference, connect a 10MHz square or sine wave reference signal to the 10MHz REF BNC input on the rear panel, and go to the Utility -> Options ->Rear Panel menu and select Ref signal mode to 10 MHz input. The working 10MHz input voltage is 180mV to 1V in amplitude, with a 0V to 2V offset. To get the highest resolution, the time/div setting should be at 200mS/div or slower. With this setting, the resolution is increased up to 8 digits, which is what would be displayed if an external 10MHz reference is used. When the internal reference is used, the oscilloscope displays counter measurement in 5 digits. The counter measurements can measure frequencies up to the bandwidth of the oscilloscope.



Basically, the counter is as accurate as the time base reference that is used.  The oscilloscope’s time base uses a built-in 10MHz reference that has an accuracy of 1.6 ppm to 50 ppm depending upon the oscilloscope model number. This means that the number displayed is within 0.00016% to 0.0050% respectively of the actual signal measured. For example, if you are making a counter measurement of 32,768 Hz signal using a model 6000X with 1.6 ppm accuracy, you are measuring the signal at ~0.05 Hz accuracy (see calculation below).

32,768 Hz x 1.6 ppm (0.00016%) = ±0.0524288 Hz



The totalizer feature of the DSOXDVMCTR counter option adds another valuable capability to the oscilloscope. It can count the number of events (totalize), and it also can monitor the number of trigger-condition-qualified events. The trigger-qualified events totalizer does not require an actual trigger to occur. It only requires a trigger-satisfying event to take place. In other words, the totalizer can monitor events faster than the trigger rate of an oscilloscope, in some cases as fast as 25 million events per second. Keep in mind that the number of events is a function of the oscilloscope’s hold off time.



The voltmeter and counter functions discussed in this article are just two of the “6 instruments in one oscilloscope” of the Keysight InfiniiVision family. The six instruments are the oscilloscope, 16 digital channels (mixed signal), serial protocol analyzer, Dual channel 20 MHz function/arbitrary waveform generator, 3-digit voltmeter, and 5 to 10-digit counter with totalizer.


The voltmeter operates through the same probes as the oscilloscope channels. However, the DVM measurements are made independently from the oscilloscope acquisition and triggering system, so you can make both the DVM and triggered oscilloscope waveform captures with the same connection.


Traditional oscilloscope counter measurements offer only five or six digits of resolution. While this level of precision is fine for quick measurements, it falls short of expectations when critical frequency measurements are needed. With the integrated counter within the five Keysight oscilloscope families summarized in Figure 1, you can select between 5 and 10 digit counter options and see your measurements with the precision you would normally expect only from a standalone counter. Because the integrated counter measures frequencies up to a wide bandwidth of 3.2 GHz, you can use it for many high-frequency applications as well.