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The H.264 video coding standard provides considerably higher coding efficiency than previous standards do, whereas its complexity is significantly increased at the same time. In an H.264 encoder, the most time-consuming component is variable block-size motion estimation. To reduce the complexity of motion estimation, an early termination algorithm is proposed in this paper. It predicts the best motion vector by examining only one search point. With the proposed method, some of the motion searches can be stopped early, and then a large number of search points can be skipped. The proposed method can work with any fast motion estimation algorithm. Experiments are carried out with a fast motion estimation algorithm that has been adopted by H.264. Results show that significant complexity reduction is achieved while the degradation in video quality is negligible.