Any 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 channel HT receiver that has pre-outs for (at least) the front L&R or all channels, will work. I've used a similar setup on numerous occassions, letting the HT receiver provide all of the processing and powering the center and surround channels.
You can get a decent HT reciever with pre-outs for as little as about $399 new. I've owned the Pioneer VSX-1015, VSX-1016 and Sony STR-DA4ES and STR-DA5000ES, plus several more expensive ones. I would go with one of the lesser expensive models as long as they had pre-outs and met any of your other needs. I'm currently in the market again and I'm considering the Onkyo 703 or 704.
I know of no such option, and it would make little sense to 99% of consumers....I do sympathize with what would be ideal for you, but how could you justify that in a production model?
There actually were a couple of units with processor and 3 channels of amplification that were available several years ago. I can't recall the brand names. However, they were DD5.1 and pro-logic and did not support DTS or pro-logic II. So, for me, I would still buy the modern HT receiver w/pre-outs as it will have much better processing than those older units.
I know of only 1 such pre-pro, made by AMC and it's a very basic unit with Pro-Logic only. I think your best option would be a HT Receiver as Reubent suggested. However, low-end receivers are very marginal (been there, done that) performers. Depending on budget, you may be happier looking for a used pre/pro and 3 channel amp (somehow making room for the extra amp), or find a used higher end receiver such as a B&K AVR202.
I've owned the B&K AVR202 on 3 different occassions (I think I gave it a fair shot!). For the purposes of an add-on HT processor/center channel/surround amp, I'd still recommend one of the more cost effective HT receivers from one of the big companies.
The B&K is a good performer all around, but I did not like the ergonomics. It was difficult to use IMHO. Build quality and 2 channel sound were better than the lesser receivers, but it is an older unit and does not support DPL-II. This is important for playback of VHS or analog TV IMHO.
The Pioneer 1015/1016 are really good at under $350 street price. No, they are no match for the B&K in build quality or overall sonics, but they do have DPL-II and auto calibration. Same for the Onkyo.
I guess it comes down to the posters needs and wallet. For high quality multi-channel music or high-end HT, you will need a good dedicated processor and a good HQ 3-channel amp. If you just want to add HT capabilities for casual movie/tv watching, one of the lesser receivers w/pre-outs will do the trick.
The B&K is a good performer all around, but I did not like the ergonomics.
I confess I have never owned the AVR202 - and I meant to indicate this in my previous post. I have however owned a great deal of other B&K gear, and based my suggestion on the B&K Amps and Pre/Pro's I've owned (AVP3090, and Ref 30).
Reubent - your comment about ergonomics is significant - one of my gripes about much of the AV equipment I've owned. My experience with AV Receivers is limited to lower end units from Yamaha and Denon, and a mid-tier unit from Sony (DAS555ES). After experimenting with the low end receivers I decided I needed to go with a pre-pro and separate amp. As you say though - it comes down to how full the buyer's wallet. I'll defer to you on the other low-end receiver sound quality, since my sampling hardly covers the waterfront.
The was a company that made an add on unit (they were DD only) years ago, 100 watts center/rears... they do show up at Ebay once in a while for around $50-$100.
However, like Reubent said...get a receiver with preouts and your set.
OK Guys, thanks a lot, you sold me on a HT theater. Since I would just use my HT system for accasional films it does make sence to go the separate way (3 ch amp + processor).
I will be looking for a use receiver, I don't care for video switching and I would like to get Dolby digital and DTS decoding. I think arround 100w per channel should be a good match to my stereo amp and since my rack space is limited, a reasonably narrow unit would be appreciate.
What would be my best bang (sound quality) for the buck?
I would look for a receiver that has the following:
5.1 channels of amplification (at least)
pre-outs for all channels
Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, plus DPL-II(great for VHS & TV)
Because of the release date of DPL-II, you may need to look at 6.1 or 7.1 channel receivers as many of the 5.1 channel units won't have DPL-II. You may also want to consider buying a receiver that has auto-calibration. The Pioneer VSX-1015/1016 have it and also have all of your other requirements. The Onkyo 702/703 also have auto-calibration and meet you other needs. Some of the mid-priced Yamahas also have auto-calibration.
I've owned several mid-high end Sonys and liked them, however the setup was difficult and the remotes are kind of quirky and non-intuitive. Of the units I've owned, I would recommend the Pioneer VSX-1015/1016 for best compromise between price, usability and sonics. It's a great deal at under $400 new (street price, $369 at J and R).
BTW, none of the receivers I've owned, that met your criteria, were compact in size. They were are similarly large at about 17" X 19" X9" .
Thanks Reuben, the Pionner is to tall, I can only fit a 6" component at he max.
What do you think about older (5.1 DD, DTS) SONY ES receivers?
I had a couple of older Sony DB and ES receivers and they were fine. The remotes are a bit quirky, but workable. Build quality and sonics were good. Setup was slightly more difficult than some of my other receivers, but once I got the hang of it, no issues.
Are their any that will fit into a 6" tall space and still have enough room for ventilation?
Actually I have 6.9" between shelf and sides are open. I want to keep about one inch for ventilation.
The (Outlaw Audio)surround receiver should fit your shelf and has preouts. The biggest problem?... is it's power output, which may, or may not be a problem at all...depending on your speaker choices for center and rears.
I have not heard this receiver, but the Harmon Kardon DPR1005 is one of the new, smaller "digital" amplifier based HT receivers and it has pre-outs. It is only 4.5" tall. However, it only has 70 w/channel, so I don't know if it has enough power for your needs.
German T+A has one: