thanks! live.com cashback was the ticket for me, good enough to get my wife to sign off. sold the old xbox for $100, got a PS3 with two sixaxis controllers and three games for $250 shipped after cash back, sold some other crap on ebay and only had to spend about $100 net. and for me the PS3 was the perfect choice because I don't care about internal codecs and it frees up my choice of receiver (perfect for the budget shopper, got an AVR 888 for $200 open box at Fry's!)... I look at the PS3's internal decoding as a positive feature, not a handicap.
the game doesn't have to be the easiest thing in the world, it's not like I'm playing with my wife and mother. my friends and I have played many a racing game, so as long as it's not ridiculously intricate we can handle a little learning curve.
it just has to be fun and offer split screen offline multiplayer mode... like I said above, I was stunned when I started reading reviews and almost every early racing game for the PS3 didn't offer that, I figured that was basically a standard feature for ANY racing game!
thanks for the advice... the new motorstorm game may have to wait a few months until I can get it for cheaper on craigslist. I think downloading WipeoutHD may do the trick for now....