Purchasing Multimedia Equipment - University of Houston
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Purchasing Multimedia Equipment

Multimedia equipment (video, sound, audiovisual, presentation) is an investment and should be treated as such. If you're considering purchasing equipment, the best advice comes from a campus media professional who is well versed in what you're ordering. This person, unlike a salesman, will provide you with unbiased and informed advice, and there's never a charge for consultation services. Your Technology Support Services staff recognizes it's both to their advantage, and yours, for you to acquire reliable up-to-date and appropriate multimedia equipment.

The following information should be considered when preparing to purchase multimedia equipment. This list was compiled from many years of experience, and includes almost every conceivable issue and problem. These items are not necessarily presented in order of importance.

  1. Talk with your campus multimedia specialists if you're unsure of what you want/need to purchase. Get their ideas and input as they often have experience in the kind of equipment you wish to acquire. If not, they'll be able to point you to someone who does. Don't rely only on salesmen who have a personal gain in what they recommend and sell.
  2. Be sure you know what you're 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 for you to try out, ask who they've sold a unit to on-campus, in the city, or in-state. Talk with a fellow professional who has and is using what you're considering. Ask if you can see it in operation. Don't order anything unless you're sure it will do what you want it to. 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 State Contract. If it is, your buying problems are easy to solve. State Contract items can be found on the Web.
  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 a substitute, 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, include it in your order. Otherwise you'll 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 in the original order, 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. If applicable, purchase 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. Including installation in the bid will result in cost savings, 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 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 manufacturer's recommended mounting hardware. This is often easily obtained when you purchase 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'll 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 purchasing the manufacturer's service plan, especially with very specialized equipment. 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 expendables 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?


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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