Heart-melting pandas, hiking the Grand Canyon from your recliner, and more in this week’s Staff Picks

Digital Trends Staff Picks

andrew coutsAndrew Couts: The $100 million Netflix coup

Netflix has a plan: “Become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” This, according to Ted Sarandos, the man behind the streaming video service’s grand scheme to transform the way we watch television. If Netflix has its way, the concept of waiting for the next episode of a show you love – “managed dissatisfaction,” as CEO Reed Hastings calls it – will die. In its place, a new form of visual storytelling will rise: The series, that delicious binge-inducing thing that the old order of cable companies currently hold hostage week by week, or imprison in $60 box sets.

Netflix wants to free television from its ad-constrained confines, and it wants to do this by charging us all just $8 a month. Ballsy, radical, and positively infuriating for the Big Cable Cabal, Netflix is betting billions of dollars that this is what we want – that this is the future of TV. But for us to have a chance at the kind of inexpensive, a la carte programming for which so many have wished for so long, Netflix needs us to support everything it throws at us.

On Friday, Netflix threw down its biggest bet yet, the $100 million series “House of Cards.” As someone who wishes to see a shakedown in the television industry, I implore you to add this show to your queue, and watch – or at least play – every episode. The more impressive viewing stats we give to Netflix, the more likely it is that we can kiss our over-priced, over-saturated, mostly-worthless cable packages goodbye.

Read more about Netflix’s plan in GQ’s company profile.

ryan flemingRyan Fleming: The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 and 2

1986 was an odd year. Tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were running high, the Iran-Contra Affair was coming to light, and shoulder pads were out of control. History will not remember these things kindly. Dreams of a utopian tomorrow were scarce, and there was a strong vein of nihilism running through fiction that spilled out onto stories set in the future. They were often dark, bleak, and occasionally very good.

One such piece of fiction came from author Frank Miller, who took the idea of Batman and turned it upside down with the limited series, The Dark Knight Returns. Set roughly a decade in the future, the post-Batman world is a bleak one. Crime is rampant, gangs roam the streets, and Bruce Wayne has long since given up crime-fighting. But you can’t keep a good bat down. Batman is reborn and proceeds to try to change the world, which leads him towards a confrontation with Superman. As a comic series and then graphic novel, it is considered quintessential reading for all comic book fans.

With a few notable exceptions including Nolan’s Batman trilogy, DC’s film division seems to be run by monkeys, occasionally flinging their poo on the walls to see what sticks. They are inconsistent and often lack any semblance of quality. There are too many examples to name (looking at you, Superman Returns). But one bright spot has been the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series, which often adapt popular storylines directly from the comics and turn them into animated movies, the most recent of which being The Dark Knight Returns.

For this film, DC actually broke it up into two parts, each with a running time of 76 minutes. The first part was released back in September and covered the issues pertaining to Batman’s return, while the second part released last Tuesday covers the fight against Superman. In the words of Phillip J. Fry, “Shut up and take my money!”

Jennifer BergenJen Bergen: Google Maps lets you hike the Grand Canyon from the comfort of your home

Google Maps has once again wowed us with its wondrous Street View. This time, the team captured one of Earth’s most beautiful geological marvels, the Grand Canyon. Capturing more than 9,500 panoramas, Google makes it possible to visit the Grand Canyon, even if you can’t afford the trip yourself. Of course, it will never compare to seeing it first hand, but it’s pretty much the next best thing.

As if having the ability to “visit” the Grand Canyon from the comfort of your home wasn’t cool enough, what we find really interesting is how the Google Maps team was able to capture such a large natural wonder. Google’s team hiked 75 miles of roads and trails and recorded all of it using its panoramic Trekker camera. This is one behemoth of a camera. The Android-operated 40-pound camera is worn like a backpack and has 15 lenses that snaps photos every 2.5 seconds. Hiking with a 40-pound backpack doesn’t sound like much fun, but we’re thankful Google was able to do it.

Google maps view grand canyon

Les Shu: Get ready for some heart-melting panda-monium!

Today, my goal is to destroy any ounce of productivity that’s left in your body. Stop everything you’re doing and treat your eyes to the most adorable baby panda ever! Okay, perhaps I suffer from a disorder of Kawaii where I can’t resist anything that’s cute (I have no scientific proof but I may been born with some type of “cute” gene usually associated with young Japanese women), but who can resist this little lovable chubby ball?

Xiao Liwu is the sixth panda to be born in captivity at the San Diego Zoo, making it the most successful program outside of China. Looking like a little stuffed animal, Xiao Liwu is playful and getting used to his surroundings. The San Diego Zoo has several videos of the cub on its site, including this one of Xiao Liwu’s official debut to the public. The zoo also has a live “Panda Cam” that lets you watch the pandas’ daily activities. I don’t know about you, but I can watch this all day.

molly-mchughMolly McHugh: The continuing tale of Manti Te’o

I’m sorry that I’m not sorry I’m still obsessed with the Manti Te’o story. This thing just gets weirder and weirder the more Te’o and anyone else involved in the whole thing opens their mouth. I can’t help but think they either have the worst PR person in the world, or just decided, “Hey, I’ve been really killin’ it lately with the whole talking thing, I think I’ll wing it!”

Enter Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the mind behind the entire hoax; or so he says. Honestly, I’m not ready to say Te’o wasn’t involved. He looked like an 8th-grade boy who couldn’t keep a straight face after totally stealing the school mascot and probably getting away with it you guys during that Katie Couric interview. Whatever the case may be, Tuiasosopo was the voice of Lennay Kekua, and this week he proved it.

Of course, he also said a lot of other things… like how he’s trying to cure himself of being gay (or, rather, “confused”), but the recordings are actually shocking. This dude could seriously have a future in voice acting, listen for yourself.

This story could not get any more twisted. ESPN, you on this 30 for 30 yet?

Teo Catfish

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