From YouTube to VR, in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep

From YouTube to VR, in Search of a Good Night's Sleep

Are you feeling stressed out? Need a way to find inner peace? Or maybe something that can help you to sleep? You’ve probably heard a lot of people telling you about the benefits of meditation, but it’s not something that all of us can do. If you’re able to meditate regularly and feel the benefit, that’s great. For the rest of us, technology can offer a helping hand, and potentially even let you get a better night’s sleep.

In the past, we’ve talked about using an app like Sleep Cycle to help you track your sleep, and to wake up feeling well rested. It works pretty well – but it only deals with the waking up part of the equation. Going to sleep is not any easier, and for many of us, it’s a real issue. That’s where a whole other set of apps comes into the picture. If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping or want a little help meditating to get a little more rest at night, this is what you need: good headphones, and an open mind.

Everybody knows YouTube, and if you’re sitting on your computer, it’s probably the easiest thing to use for most of us. Once you have a nice pair of in-ear headphones, there are two types of videos that can be of help:

1) ASMR is short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is a very scary and technical sounding term for the physical sensation that you can feel on your head, or scalp (or perhaps on the soles of your feet) from audio inputs. The ASMR tingles are usually mildly pleasing, and also relaxing, and there’s a cottage industry of videos now on YouTube that help to stimulate this sensation.

You’ll find videos of people cleaning out ears, or perhaps starting a fire. This virtual barbershop democan also trigger a strong reaction. ASMR is hugely popular, and it’s not actually very clear how or why it happens. Not everyone experiences this at all, and different people find ASMR triggered by different videos. But there’s clearly a growing audience for ASMR videos – a search on YouTube for ASMR brought up nearly 4 million results and there are nearly a million when you search for ASMR sleep. Using these videos helped us to relax a little, and it’s particularly good when you’re lying in bed at night; a video or two running in the background while reading would leave a well-rested feeling. But the problem with ASMR videos is that they don’t work for everyone, and we noticed that the videos become less effective over time – for us anyway – meaning you have to keep finding new videos that suit you.

asmr_sleep_youtube.jpg2) While we were reading around ASMR, one term came up quite a few time – binaural beats. Many swore it was a much more reliable and effective way to feel rested. A binaural beat is an auditory illusion that you perceive when two different frequencies (under 1500Hz, with a difference of under-40Hz) are playing in your ears. The difference causes your brain to fill in a pulsing beat between the two ears, so it sounds like you’re listening to a pulsing wave instead of a steady tone in each ear. It sounds strange, but the results are incredibly restful, and we’ve tested this with a number of people now and received positive feedback from nearly everyone.

There are nearly a million videos that turn up when you search for binaural beat on YouTube. It’s easy to find one, and by and large, we found them all to be pretty good. We didn’t like the videos that come with too many extra bells and whistles – simple, plain sounds worked the best for you. This one is a personal favourite, but if you prefer wind sounds, or gentle music, there is plenty that you can choose from on YouTube.

To listen, don’t turn the volume all the way up on your earphones – the sounds should be loud enough to be heard, but not at a distracting level – this is supposed to be the background sound. It can also be pretty handy to use in the office for this reason – we’ve found it a relaxing way to block out excess chatter at work, while still being present enough that you can hear if your phone rings or if someone is speaking to you.

binaural_beat_wave.jpgBoth these audio aids can be very helpful if you’re trying to relax and feel rested. Many of the people we demonstrated binaural beats to found the experience instantly restful, and said it helped them focus. If you’re sitting in office and having a tiring day, this might just be what you need to get your focus back.

The problem with both of these is, of course, that you’re stuck streaming video from YouTube every time you want to relax or sleep or meditate, and that’s not really ideal. What’s more, you’re wasting bandwidth on video for the ‘relaxing’ visuals that accompany many of these clips – but by and large, most people found the video component quite unnecessary or even a hindrance to relaxing. To get around these problems, you could of course download MP3 files from various sources, but we’d instead recommend getting one of the many apps available.

Mobile apps
The binaural beat generating apps are available on both iOS and Android. The apps are pretty small as well, since they don’t need to store large audio files – they just need to generate fixed tones from your speaker. This means that they’re convenient even on Android phones with relatively limited space on them, and once again, all you really need are a nice pair of in-ear headphones.

binaural_beats_android.jpgThe advantages of using an app are that you’re not reliant on a working Internet connection, and you’ll always have your phone with you, so the sound is always available. This is also convenient to use in bed, and most of the apps we found will run in the background, so you can easily set the up, and then read a book or just turn off the display on your phone and rest for a while.

On Android, our favourite was an app called Binaural Beats Therapy. It’s free, and comes with a number of different presets that it says can help with various issues – there’s Sleep Induction to help you fall asleep, Power Nap to give you a quick 20 minute rest, even an Acid Trip preset to simulate a dose of LSD. Now, first off, let’s just say that that last one really does not work. Sorry if you got excited. That being said, the Power Nap preset has been super-effective in our (thoroughly unscientific) trials with different volunteers. And it’s become a regular feature on the daily commute as well.

The app includes some video effects, and a few additional sounds over and above the binaural beat you’re listening to which can be a little annoying, but Power Nap doesn’t have this. And it works even with the screen off, so it’s great to slip the phone into your pocket and relax on the way to work.

binaural_iphone.jpgOn iOS, Binaural (which was featured in Apple’s Sleep Better collection) is easily the app to pick. It’s also free, though there are some paid features you can unlock for a Rs. 190 in-app purchase. This is not necessary but if you want to support the developer, it’s certainly a good option.

Binaural is a really nice looking and minimal app that lets you easily set the frequency you want to listen to by simply swiping across the screen. It takes seconds to set up, and there’s nothing extra to take you out of the experience – you just listen to the audio that you wanted, and come away feeling rested. From all the basic options we’ve talked about so far, Binaural is definitely our favourite.

VR meditation
All the methods that we’ve talked about so far don’t require anything out of the ordinary – just your phone or computer, an Internet connection, and a good pair of in-ear headphones. But we recently came across one more application that really impressed us, but it has a bit of a barrier to entry. It’s an app for the Samsung Gear VR, which means that you need to have one of Samsung’s high-end phones, and also the Gear VR itself. If you’re an early adopter who’s got both these things though, you can check out an app called Dream. This is a VR experience, in the Oculus Store’s experimental ‘Concepts’ section, and it’s a free app you can try out. The app itself is pretty mesmerising.

gear_vr_dream.jpgWhen you strap on the headset and launch the app, you’ll find yourself walking on what looks like a cloud. There’s a slow, smoky waterfall in the distance, and you’ll see little motes of light floating around you gently. This sounds cheesy – and it is – but somehow when you’re strapped into VR, it doesn’t feel stupid, it feels relaxing and almost hypnotic. You’re slowly moving forward in this misty cloud, with the mores of light swirling around you, and a gentle wind-sound plays, on top of a binaural beat. That’s all there is to dreams – it’s a very simple, and relaxing experience, which manages to make good use of the visuals as well – a first, in our opinion.

After the first five to ten minutes, we stopped looking around, and just sat down and enjoyed the gentle ride we were on. It felt almost like being on a boat, gently being rocked to sleep, and while it would be a bad idea to go to sleep with a VR headset strapped to your face, it was pretty tempting. We didn’t really want to remove the headset, but after 30 minutes we started to feel quite sleepy, and had to pull it off.

Overall, Dreams was simply the best and most relaxing app we’ve experienced so far, and if you’re able to try it out for yourself, we’d strongly recommend it. This might not help everyone, but the few people we tried this with had a similar experience, and it really shows how VR could have a number of uses outside of gaming, as it could help people to rest, sleep, or meditate.

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Tags: ASMR, Binaural Beats, Dream, Gear VR, Health, Meditation, Relaxation, Sleep, Virtual Reality, VR meditation,YouTube

YouTube Now on T-Mobile’s ‘Binge On’ After Earlier Spat

YouTube Now on T-Mobile's 'Binge On' After Earlier Spat

T-Mobile and YouTube have come to terms after a public spat over the phone company’s “Binge On” video streaming service.

As a result, most T-Mobile customers can, starting Thursday, watch YouTube videos without using up their cellphone data.

T-Mobile in November had started letting customers stream video from a couple dozen providers, including Netflix, Hulu and HBO, without using up their phone data.

YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet, didn’t like that T-Mobile then delivered all video in DVD-level quality, which is worse than HD – even video from companies that hadn’t joined Binge On.

YouTube, as well as others including digital-rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, criticized this as throttling, which the government’s net neutrality rules don’t permit. T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a video posted online that that charge was “a game of semantics” because customers could opt out and stream higher quality video if they wanted. Customers would use up more data if they did that.

Proponents of net neutrality, the concept that Internet service providers should treat all traffic equally, are concerned about efforts by T-Mobile and other ISPs, including Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, to exempt some video or other online activities from data caps. They worry that could lead to some Internet companies paying cable and phone businesses for better access to consumers, hurting other Internet companies that can’t afford to pay. (T-Mobile doesn’t charge video companies to participate in Binge On, however.)

T-Mobile has changed its service to appease YouTube. Now T-Mobile allows video providers to manage video streams themselves, which YouTube is doing. That helps YouTube make sure that video doesn’t take a long time to load for viewers.

Video providers can also choose whether they want to be able to stream their video at a higher quality. If they do that, T-Mobile customers will have to use more data to watch it.

YouTube also said in a blog post that T-Mobile has made it easier for customers to turn off Binge On so that they can watch HD video.

T-Mobile said on Thursday that it has added some other, smaller video providers to Binge On as well. The program now has several dozen in all, but does not include Facebook or Snapchat, a photo and video app that’s become popular with teens and young adults in the last few years.

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Tags: Alphabet, Apps, AT And T, Comcast, HBO, Hulu, Internet, Netflix, T Mobile, Telecom, Verizon, YouTube

YouTube Gaming for Android Gets New Features

YouTube Gaming for Android Gets New Features

YouTube Gaming is getting a host of new features. The gaming-focused video streaming service has gotten rid of the sidebars on its homepage to make navigation easier – with new pages to manage games and channels – as well as to boost discovery of new content. There’s a new “Live” tab on the homepage that brings top streams, games, and videos from subscribed channels. In addition to this, there’s an Android live stream player – a feature that was limited to iOS and browsers (via HTML5). It will support quality switching, 60fps viewing, and DVR mode.

Also new is a pop-out player on Android. This will allow users to pop out the YouTube Gaming player, allowing it to be visible above other apps on your device.

(Also see: Twitch Partners Cannot Stream on YouTube Gaming: Report)

There’s more to it – the YouTube Gaming mobile app for Android and iOS will be made available to a few more countries.

“Now we’re inviting more players to the game. Starting today, the YouTube Gaming mobile app will be available on iOS and Android in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, homes to top gaming creators like jacksepticeye, Vanoss, and TypicalGamer,” wrote YouTube Gaming Product Manager Alan Joyce. After which he hinted that “many more countries are coming soon”.

It’ll be interesting to see if India makes the cut anytime soon. Reason being, the company just took interest in gaming content out of India, hosting the country’s first workshop on gaming. With video streaming consumption being decidedly mainstream, we wonder if there are enough gaming content creators (and the requisite volume of gaming viewers) to justify a local release.

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YouTube Music App First Impressions

YouTube Music App First Impressions

If you were going to reinvent MTV for a mobile generation, you’d probably come up with something like YouTube Music. It’s a video-first music service that also plays in the background like you’d expect a music app to do. That sets it apart from other music apps out there, many of which give you a choice of videos or songs, but not interchangeably.

But while YouTube Music offers a lot of interesting features, most of them require a subscription to the new YouTube Red service, which will set you back $10 a month – $13 if you sign up through YouTube’s iPhone app. Without Red, YouTube Music will play ads similar to what you see on YouTube proper, and several other functions won’t work at all. YouTube is offering new users a 14-day free trial to Red, but to continue commercial free, you’ll need to pony up.

YouTube Music is first and foremost a music-video app, albeit one that doesn’t forget that most people will be using it on their phones. For those times you’d rather just listen instead of watching, you can hit a toggle that switches the app to audio-only mode, which turns off the video playback and swaps in a still image. You can even turn off the screen and keep listening while you do something else.

youtube_music_app_screenshot_google_play_1.jpgBut here’s the first gotcha: Audio-only mode only works for paid subscribers. I also found the audio-only toggle worked far better on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 than on an iPhone 5, where it introduced a jarring pause.

You can similarly shrink the video to a little strip at the bottom of the app, which keeps it playing in a cropped format while you look for the next video. The app will even keep playing if you switch to other tasks, like checking email – although again only if you’ve paid up for Red.

There are some curious omissions. For instance, there’s no easy way to create a playlist to queue up a bunch of videos in a row. The app does offer “song stations,” which queue up videos from artists related to the one you’re on. You can toggle the range of the resulting mix with options like “less variety,” ”more variety” or “balanced.” I started a station starting with Passenger’s “Let Her Go” and so far I’m pretty happy with the “balanced” playlist it created, which included “Counting Stars” from OneRepublic and “Burn” by Ellie Goulding.

You can also play all of the videos you’ve thumbs-upped, which turns that grouping into a crude sort of playlist.

youtube_music_app_screenshot_google_play_2.jpgYouTube Music is far less cluttered than competing services like Apple Music, which has more lists and tabs than you’ll know what to do with. YouTube Music keeps the tabs to three – home, hot (trending videos), and thumbs up (your favorites).

Home offers recommended videos, and it’s easy to find something playable. Your mileage may vary with the “hot” tab; it didn’t do much for me, although I’m usually a bit out of sync with the mainstream.

Finally, there’s one more fun feature, which is called “offline mixtape.” It automatically saves 20 audio-only songs for you based on your tastes, for when you know you’re going to get spotty reception. I wish it saved the videos instead of just the audio, but this will keep the tunes turning in a pinch. Alas, offline mixtapes are disabled in the ad-supported version of YouTube Music.

The app makes Google’s $10-a-month music subscription a lot more attractive. Paying up not only unlocks features in YouTube Music itself, it also gets you ad-free playback on the main YouTube app, access to Google Play Music, and, down the road, some original material from YouTube stars.

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