Warranty Miniaturization

Remember the good old days for equipment? When A/V/L gear took three-to-five times the rack space than it does now and weighed exponentially more than would be commensurate for its footprint?

We’ve come a long way and most of us are pretty happy with the technological advancements and progress we’ve been able to see. But there is a dark side to the advances in A/V/L manufacturing, miniaturization and the commoditization of technology. Do you know what it is?

Let’s use the example of a video switcher (but I could have easily used an audio console, dimmer pack, video camera or portable computer to illustrate my point just as well).

Years ago when you bought a brand new video production switcher five or ten cardboard boxes might arrive. The control panel would be in one box. The touch-panel set-up configuration screen would be in another box. Aux panels in a few others. Mainframe with I/O boards and power supplies still in more boxes. Did you order a DVE from the switcher manufacturer? It would come in its own rack mountable frame with multiple boards inside. A still store? Another rack frame and boards as well. Need to connect all those rack frames together so they would communicate? Another box would contain a serial interface. By the time you were done a production switcher could easily take six feet of rack space! Why? Because each function had its own set of boards.

Some of the warranties back then were for a one year term. Other manufacturers warranties were longer or shorter. After the warranty expired and if you had a failure you just called the manufacturer’s tech support line and spoke to a real human being. If you had not already diagnosed which rack frame and board was creating the problem the tech support person on the phone would assist you figure out what board was failing.

Once identified all you needed to do was ship back the faulty card to the manufacturer and they would have a bench technician diagnose and actually fix YOUR card and send it back to you. If you desperately needed a replacement card while yours was being repaired and you were a big enough client for the manufacturer the service manager might mail you a loaner … in some cases they would mail you a loaner before you even shipped out your faulty card to them. In other cases they would just mail you replacement card and not even expect your faulty card in return.

But today, individual cards with dedicated utilizations have gone the way of the buggy whip. In some cases we don’t even see mother and daughter boards anymore. All functions, switcher inputs, outputs, frame synchronizers, keyers, effects, still store and the multi-viewer are sometimes all on one board! Or at least, on an amazingly few quantity of boards.

Tom, what are you complaining about …. That’s great! Right?  It’s smaller!  It’s lighter!  And it’s cheaper!

Well, what about when it breaks? [Light bulb above head moment]

That’s right. If your downstream keyer breaks and you need to send it out for service, you’ve just down-ed your entire switcher. Still-store is flakey? You’ll need to send out not only your entire switcher but your multi-viewer as well! It’s all together!

If that were not bad enough, consider the financial implications.

Years ago, if you bought a $20,000 composite video production switcher with a one year factory warranty and no extended warranties and amortized the investment over five years, you might in reality get far more years out of it before things started failing.  At hypothetical year-five, input #2 might fail. You ship that board to the manufacturer, they charge you $1,000, you complain to yourself,  but you’re back in business.  At hypothetical year-eight the keyer may die.  Again, you ship the keyer board to the manufacturer, they charge you another $1,000 and you’re back in business again.  Between years five and ten (when the switcher finally does the ‘eternal fade to black’) you might have spent a total of $2,000 in repairs and replacement parts, not too bad when you consider you got twice the financial life-span for only a 10% additional investment.  Ten years divided by $22,000 ($20,000 + $2,000) is a $2,200 per year cost of ownership.

Fast forward to today.  If you buy a $20,000 switcher it will be able to do things the older $20,000 switcher couldn’t dream of doing.  The new switcher will be 1080HD or UltraHD 4K!  It will have more features and be able to take in multiple types of signals, etc.  But if ANYTHING goes wrong on that switcher after the warranty expires, you are not just replacing the keyer, or multi-viewer, or still store. You are replacing the ENTIRE switcher at the cost for the ENTIRE new replacement switcher. Think the manufacturer is going to send you a complete loaner switcher while your keyer is being repaired? Not likely. It’s time to pay up my friend.  If the new switcher has it’s first component failure at the same time (at the five year mark), your cost of ownership skyrockets to $4,000 per year ($20,000 divided by five years when you replace the out of warranty switcher).

Effectively, what the manufacturers have done under the guise of smaller-lighter-cheaper is designed products that are more profitable for them in at least two ways: (1) at the initial purchase, due to lower manufacturing costs of fewer boards and components, and (2) upon replacement as end-users are forced to replace the entire switcher earlier than before.  Ingenious.  And very sneaky.

So, what can we do about it?

Unless you are NBC, CBS or ABC which has its own dedicated manufacturer’s sales rep, the first thing you can do is begin a relationship with an A/V/L sales/integrater that has a TON of clout with manufacturers. This is important, because someone with clout can ask the manufacturer for a longer warranty than a manufacturer would normally extend to you. Someone with clout can get you a loaner device, quicker. Someone with clout can get you a replacement BEFORE you rip out your existing device.

Develop vendor relationships and begin being faithful to these sales/integration vendors now with your purchase orders, even on smaller items. Forget about buying from internet retailers & box-houses. Yes, you’ll may pay a little less now by shopping the internet super-stores, but you’ll pay a lot more later! Trust me. And explain to your controller why you are buying everything from the A/V/L sales/integrater instead of B&H in these terms. Use your ongoing PO’s to guarantee good service when you most desperately need it!

The second thing you can do is talk to your sales/integration vendor about extended warranties. These were not always a great deal in the past, but as the manufacturers continue to miniaturize and consolidate the manufacturing of products, extended warranties are now becoming a better deal.

And remember, extended warranties and service contracts can be negotiated too! Work a deal with your sales/integration vendor. If some of the AJA or Ross product they are selling you only has a one year warranty and other AJA or Ross items have a three year warranty, get them to make the manufacturer honor a three year warranty on ALL items from that manufacturer before the (additional cost) extended warranty or service contract you are buying kicks in. If you are buying an extended warranty on new Panasonic cameras …. get the sales/integrator to get the manufacturer to throw in extra coverage on the Panasonic switcher you already own that is three years old.

The fact is, we need to start getting creative in our management of equipment resources. The manufacturers have been cunning in figuring out different ways they can get to your savings account. We need to be equally as cunning in being good stewards. Being born-again does not mean being born again yesterday. Right?

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. – Matthew 10:16

Any other suggestions on how to be a good manager of equipment resources? Leave a comment below…