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

Gaming

The best free-to-play games you can play right now

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Deals

The best cheap-but-awesome PS4 game deals under $20

The PlayStation 4 has hit its stride in recent years and is now more affordable than ever. If you have a PS4 or are thinking of buying one, we’ve collected some must-have games. The best part? Each of these is just $20 or less.
Emerging Tech

Whether you fly for fun or filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Photography

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Product Review

Airselfie 2 may as well be a GoPro stapled to a drunk hummingbird

On paper, the Airselfie 2 is marketed as flying photographer that fits in your pocket and snaps selfies from the sky. Unfortunately it’s more like a HandiCam controlled by a swarm of intoxicated bumblebees
Emerging Tech

‘Bionic mushroom’ can generate electricity without using fossil fuels

Researchers have come up with a way to produce electricity without fossil fuels using mushrooms covered with bacteria. The mushroom provides a safe environment for special cyanobacteria that generate electricity when light is shone on them.
Emerging Tech

Curiosity rover active and drilling again after computer issue

The Curiosity rover has succeeded in drilling a hole into the tough bedrock that previously defeated it, allowing imaging and collection of samples. The rover had been incapacitated for a few weeks due to problems with its computer.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover two rogue planets that do not orbit a star

Astronomers have identified two rogue planets in our galaxy which do not orbit around a star. Unlike the vast majority of discovered planets, these rogue planets drift through space alone with no sun to shine on them.
Emerging Tech

Pairs of supermassive black holes spotted in colliding galaxies

Astronomers have discovered several pairs of supermassive black holes in galaxies that are colliding with each other. These black holes will spiral closer and closer together and eventually merge into one supermassive black hole.
Emerging Tech

Quantum-based accelerometer can locate objects without GPS

Researchers have created a quantum "compass" that allows navigation without satellites. The instrument, technically called a standalone quantum accelerometer, is small enough to be transportable and has a very high level of accuracy.
Emerging Tech

Ancient continent discovered beneath the ice of Antarctica

Antarctica could be hiding the remains of a long-lost continent. Scientists created a 3D map of the crust beneath the Antarctic ice sheet which shows a similarity to the crust in Australia and India, suggesting they used to be joined.