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

instagram idiocy marshmallows or the moon and staff picks les shuLes 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.

heart melting pandas hiking the grand canyon from your recliner and more in this weeks staff picks panda

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

Movies & TV

Bear Grylls goes interactive with Netflix’s Bandersnatch-esque You vs. Wild

Think you have what it takes to survive in the wilderness, Bear Grylls-style? You vs. Wild, an eight-episode interactive Netflix series that takes cues from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, will let you prove it.
Mobile

These voice-changing apps will have you punking friends and family like a pro

Have you ever wanted to call your friends as Darth Vader or Alvin from the Chipmunks? If you want to play a prank on your friends, we have the best voice-changer apps for iOS and Android, whether you want to record audio or make a call.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Movies & TV

Did I really watch that? Here's how to delete your Netflix viewing history

Everybody has some skeletons in their streaming closet, but you don't have to live with them if you don't want to. Learning how to delete your Netflix viewing history is easy, and we're here to help.
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

New Hubble image displays dazzling Messier 28 globular cluster

Messier 28 is a group of stars in the constellation of Sagittarius, located 18,000 light-years from our planet. Thousands of stars are packed tightly together in this sparkling image.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Cosmic dust bunnies: Scientists find unexpected ring around Mercury

A pair of scientists searching for a dust-free region near the Sun have made an unexpected discovery: a vast cosmic dust ring millions of miles wide around the tiny planet Mercury.
Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.
Business

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.
Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis.