If you had to choose a defining feature of the 685, it would have to be the color front panel display. In addition to displaying router status information and providing access to some configuration features, it can display a slideshow of photos from the internal hard drive or content from D-Link’s partner FrameChannel service.
D-Link partnered with Frame Media around the beginning of 2008, when it launched its D-Life product line. The FrameChannel service provides access to Internet content such as photo-sharing sites, RSS feeds, news, and yes, even your Twitter account “tweets” directly to 'net-connected devices like photo frames and now, the screen on the 685. For a major feature, however, it’s not very well documented – the first mention of it appears on page 96 of the CD-based user guide, and at the bottom of the quick install poster.
To set it up, with an active Internet connection, you scroll over to the FrameChannel icon on the router and hit the center key. A five digit activation key appears. Next, you navigate to http://D-Link.framechannel.com and create an account. Don’t worry – it’s free. Once you create your account, you enter the activation code found on the LCD of the 685 and it links your DIR-685 to your FrameChannel account.
From your online account, you can select the news feeds, photos and photo sharing sites (FrameChannel supports sites such as Picasa, Facebook and Flickr) you want to appear on your screen. Once you’ve chosen your content, you can choose to preview how the content will appear on your screen as shown in Figure 10.
Figure 10: FrameChannel screen preview
It’s just that simple – or at least it should be. In my network configuration, ie, the 685 behind another router (an allegedly supported configuration), I was unable to get the FrameChannel feature to work at all. After several calls and emails with D-Link, I concluded that the problem must be related to having an additional NAT router / firewall between the 685 and Internet. Because when I plugged in the DIR-685 directly into my cable modem, it worked exactly as advertised. All of the content that I had configured in my account at the FrameChannel started to appear on the 685’s screen – exactly as previewed.
D-Link claimed that my configuration wasn't very common, but I’m not so sure. Many DSL ISPs actually include a router in their DSL modems (or at least a NAT firewall) and provide a private IP address for connection to a router's WAN port. This is essentially the setup that I had, except I connected the 685's WAN port to one of my main router's LAN ports. Either way, D-Link has confirmed that this doesn't work and may address it in a future firmware update.
As I mentioned earlier, the 685 also lets you generate a slide show from photos that are stored on the drive mounted inside the router. You use the front panel keypad, navigate to the folder containing the photos you would like to display and hit the “center” key to confirm. A slideshow of the images in your selected directory will then start to play. Unlike most photo frames, however, you can’t rotate photos, nor can you change transitions between the slides, or, for that matter, the length of time between slides.
The DIR-685 has two rear panel USB ports that support D-Link's SharePort feature. Shareport allows one-at-a-time networked access to USB devices such as printers and storage devices from Windows or Mac OS X systems running a SharePort utility. In addition to running the utility, all drivers for the shared device must also be pre-installed on the computer that will be using it.
We covered SharePort technology extensively in the DIR-825 review, so I won’t cover it again. Suffice it to say that I prefer the USB storage sharing found on most other NAS products. For those products, no driver or other software is required, and multiple users can map to the attached USB storage device as another share on the NAS.
Figure 11 shows the SharePort utility with two attached USB storage devices attached to the local computer. Drives F and G are the USB devices and appear as local drives.