I suggest running right down to your LBS and at least read the article in Mountain Bike Action on 5 different $1500 full sus bikes pitted against each other. The August edition.
To paraphrase, winners were from best to worst: Gary Fisher HiFi, Specialized FSR XC, Giant, Cannondale, Trek. Can't remember the models on the last 3. The MSRPs were between 1500 & 1700, but street prices were about $1500.
I'd also take a look at the Mongoose Canaan which you'll only find at Performance (looks like one just opened in S.A.
). It's the best deal of the lot. However, it may not be the bike that feels the best for you.