I agree that the bookshelf system would get you the most for your money, sound quality wise. However, as you are even considering a "soundbar/surroundbar" I'm going to assume that audio isn't the only consideration. Obviously asthetics plays a role, too? Keep in mind with a bookshelf system you will have to have a good amp/receiver, wires running to the speakers, and potentially speaker stands and a sub adding to the cost and clutter of your system.
Speaking as an owner of a 5.1 system, nothing beats the real thing, but if your budget takes you into the $2,000 range, there are some good "surroundbars" out there. A few good choices have been suggested, and one that I've heard that impressed me was the Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) Panorama. It had a faux surround effect that was very convincing. Keep in mind that I heard it in a very small room, maybe 12' X 12' or 15' X 15' at most. I doubt it would perform as well in a larger room, or in a non-rectangular shaped room (the surround effect is based on room reflections). The same can be said about any soundbar, but consider that it is trying to look good to the wife as well as sound good to you.