Purchasing Multimedia Equipment

Multi-media equipment (video, sound, audio-visual, presentation) is an investment and should be treated as such. If you are considering purchasing equipment, the best advice comes from a campus media professional who is well versed in what you are ordering. This person, unlike a salesman, will have to live with the advice given to you, and best of all there is no charge for consultation service. Your Technology Support Services staff know it's to their advantage, as well as yours, for you to acquire reliable, up-to-date, and correct multi-media equipment.

The following information should be considered when preparing to purchase multi-media equipment. It's compiled from many years of experience, where almost every conceivable problem you can imagine has occurred. These are not necessarily presented in order of importance, but rather should be taken as a whole.

  1. Talk with your campus multi-media specialists if you are unsure of what you want to buy. Get their ideas. They often have experience in the kind of equipment you wish to buy. If not, they will be able to point you to someone who does. Don't rely only on salesmen who have a personal gain involved in what they sale.
  2. Be sure you know what you are ordering. Don't take a salesman's word for it. Get a trial unit and see if it does what you want it to do. Most vendors are willing to work with you. If they can't provide a unit, ask who they have sold a unit to on-campus, in the city, or at least the state. Talk with a fellow professional who has one. Ask if you can see it in operation. Don't order unless you are sure it will do what you want it to do. Beware when a vendor tells you that they haven't sold any units anywhere in the state.
  3. Check to see if the item you wish to buy is on the State Contract. If it is, your buying problems are easy to solve. State Contract items can be found on the World Wide Web at www.window.state.tx.us/procurement/.
  4. Write detailed specifications. If what you want has a special feature, include the specifications of that feature. Don't assume anything. If you want a zoom lens, describe it clearly (e.g., 102mm to 152mm). If you don't want substitutes, say "NO SUBSTITUTES ALLOWED."
  5. Read the accessory list very carefully. Don't assume something comes with the unit. If it doesn't say it comes with the unit, it probably doesn't, and it will cost you extra. If you want an accessory or interface device, specify it with the equipment or list it as a separate item. It's usually cheaper to buy accessories with the original bid than buy them later.
  6. If the item requires special software, order the software. Otherwise you will have the equipment and no way to operate it. It may take several weeks to get the software, so if you must order something you forgot to include, consider spending a few extra dollars to get it sent "next day" or by air. This is often better and cheaper in the long run than waiting for it to come by truck.
  7. Consider buying a carrying case or protective cover. A hard case is best if you intend to move a unit often or take it off-campus.
  8. If you need the equipment installed, write it in the bid. The installation charge will be much cheaper, since vendors want to sell you the equipment. Otherwise you may have great difficulty getting a vendor to install an item (e.g., mounting a video projector on the ceiling of an auditorium) bought from another vendor. Don't assume someone on your campus can install the equipment either. Some equipment installations are very difficult and they may require special tools or expertise. Ask your media or Physical Plant staff if they can install the equipment before you order.

    In many instances you may have to buy mounting hardware. Most equipment is best installed using the manufacture's recommended mounting hardware. This is often easily obtained when you buy the equipment. Otherwise you may have to use off-the-shelf generic mounting (made for many items) or have the mount fabricated. Usually you don't save any money going with either of these.
  9. Buy a repair/maintenance manual for any equipment you order. It will help you avoid long delays when the equipment breaks down out-of -warranty. It is well worth the extra money you will pay. Don't assume your media department or even commercial vendors have a manual for every piece of multi-media equipment - they don't! The repair of a critical piece of equipment can be delayed for weeks if someone has to order a repair manual for your equipment (and they will bill you for the manual).
  10. Consider buying the manufacturer's service plan, especially with very specialized equipment. The factory authorized maintenance technicians have diagnostic equipment, training, and sometimes proprietary manuals that general repair people may not possess or be able to acquire.
  11. It is sometimes risky to buy new or prototype models. The item may not be available when promised and/or it may not come as originally described. It can be a wonderful piece of equipment or it could turn out to be a commercial flop. A safer bet is to buy something that has been out for at least a year.
  12. Do you require training on the new equipment? If so, put this in the purchase order or contract with someone else. Maybe someone on-campus can train you for little or no cost. Maybe some free training comes with the equipment. Specify what you require.
  13. Be wary of a sudden and significant drop in the cost of an item. It may or may not be a bargain. They could be closing out or discontinuing a item. Repair and maintenance of a discontinued item can be costly, since parts may no longer be available.
  14. Count all the costs when acquiring equipment. What expendable will it require. Expendables (e.g., xenon projection lamps, Beta SP video tape, a special cartridge, etc.) can be costly. What will be the annual service and maintenance cost? Will this equipment do what you want it to do? How long will it serve this purpose, and how soon will you have to replace it. How many expendables do you need to keep in stock, and where do you buy them from?

Summary

Don't be discouraged by the complexity of buying. Just be a smart buyer. Survey your needs, investigate the product, look at it in operation, and then write complete specifications. For added protection let your media specialists or some other knowledgeable person review your purchase order. It is easier to correct an error before you order than to correct a problem afterwards.





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