$450 will get you a good digital. I do not think "best" is a valid concept when it comes to this type of technology. What is your experience level? To a beginner "best" is much different then "best" for an experienced amateur photographer. I have found a dramatic improvement in photo quality with a 5MP camera over my older 3MP. With $450 to spend, do not look at anything below 5MP, also I value optics, you should be able to get something with sizable glass optics. Remember it is the optics that deliver the light to the CCD, without good Optics the best you can do is marginal.
I am not convinced that brand makes a lot of difference. Look for the camera that YOU like the feel of, that has controls that YOU understand and can use. It is pointless to spend money on features that you have no use for.
I have gotten good use of my HP945, but some of its features require a bit o knowledge to fully utilize. This camera falls well inside your price range but may be more complex then you need, or want.
Tell us more about your experience level and your needs, we can provide better info.