Motion estimation is the most critical process in video coding systems. First of all, it has a definitive impact on the rate-distortion performance given by the video encoder. Secondly, it is the most computationally intensive process within the encoding loop. For these reasons, the design of high-performance low-cost motion estimators is a crucial task in the video compression field. An adaptive cost block matching (ACBM) motion estimation technique is presented in this paper, featuring an excellent tradeoff between the quality of the reconstructed video sequences and the computational effort. Simulation results demonstrate that the ACBM algorithm achieves a slight better rate-distortion performance than the one given by the well-known full search algorithm block matching algorithm with reductions of up to 95% in the computational load.