I'm always a little envious when meeting mechanically inclined people. They can look under the hood of car and know the engine size. They know where all the parts are located. If you are considering a purchase, they can help evaluate vehicles.
Purchasing a computer, projector or a camera for homes, offices or churches also requires expertise. Let's consider church use.
Equipment can be expensive, so the purchase must be a wise investment. You must consider more than the price tag. (Ask your car-buying friends.) Ask yourself these questions:
Have you kept up? Brands come and go. Companies buy one another. Quality varies. Reputations change. If you can't keep up (most of us can't), accept it and seek expertise.
Do you have a master plan? Is there a strategy in place to purchase, replace and upgrade your equipment? If not, should you?
How will it be used? If buying a computer, what software will it need to run? If you're purchasing a camera, does it need to be portable? If you cannot afford the best, what do you need?
What factors will influence needs? If you are putting a projector in your sanctuary, could existing light fixtures or sunlight at certain times of the day make a difference?
What's the item connected to? Is it compatible to equipment you already have? Will it require other equipment to be upgraded?
What's the next great thing? There is usually no perfect time to have a child — or to make a purchase. There will always be an innovation or new feature coming in the next quarter. Acknowledge this and compare it to your need.
Armed with background information, you can start actually looking for the equipment you need.
Talk to a friend. Who do you know that may have already "been there, done that"? You can learn from their successes and failures and often get referrals.
Read. What publications or websites can help with your specific needs? Niche church publications offered by Production Media (pmipub.com) such as Church Production (churchproduction.com) can help. Also, websites such as Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com), Church TechToday.com and Church TechArts.org can assist. Search on "tech blogs" on the latter website for other suggested blogs.
Ask. Look for knowledgeable people with a minimum of biases. It's natural for dealers to prefer their brands, but they usually can be objective about your needs and point out critical specs, durability and suggest options. Ministerial alliances and church discussion boards, such as Church Media.net, give you access to others, along with chat rooms set up by manufacturers and software. For forums, check that information and comments are recent.
Another advantage of asking questions is finding an out-of-the-box solution. Recently, someone asked about taping and distributing video spots. I mentioned how Second Baptist Church, Liberty, produces its video blogs using little more than an iPhone and YouTube.
Spend. Your reading and questions should help you find what you need, evaluate features and begin to think of preferred brands. Now it's time to price equipment and installation, if needed.
There is always a better deal somewhere — usually on the Internet. Good price does not always equal good value, however. Local dealers often have an advantage in setup, training, support and warranty. They may offer free onsite consultation or loaner equipment, and they're close by. Keep this in mind as you compare prices.
My father was a jeweler. When customers asked him how much a diamond would cost, he would answer by asking, "How much does a car cost?" The principle is the same with big-ticket technical items. Needs, use and features will impact the final price tag.
Ken Satterfield is circulation and advertising coordinator for Word&Way.